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Cano hopes to excite Seattle for baseball

Star second baseman travels from Dominican Republic for Mariners FanFest

SEATTLE -- As a five-time All-Star, Robinson Cano has been one of the premier players in the Major Leagues for much of his career. But that career has been spent being one of many stars on the Yankees' crowded stage, not the featured face of a franchise looking to make a new splash.

But things changed this offseason for Cano. And as he was introduced to Mariners fans for the first time at Saturday's FanFest at Safeco Field, the 30-year-old second baseman did so with the knowledge that he now carries extra pressure along with the $240 million contract he inked in December.

Saturday's first day of FanFest drew 10,903 fans, the highest single-day attendance in the event's 16-year history, and the Mariners appear on their way to breaking their two-day record of 17,592 on Sunday. Saturday's crowd enjoyed the chance to tour the stadium, gather autographs and meet numerous players on the sunny afternoon, with Cano being the prize attraction.

"I'm ready for it," he said of the impending microscope. "I've been in New York where you have media all day. But there are things that won't be in my hands. I'll bring my good energy and do as much as I can. I've been in this game a long time. But this is about the team, not one guy."

You'll hear that a lot from Cano in the coming weeks. He knows he'll only come to bat four or five times a game. He'll only field the ground balls that come his way. He'll only be a part of the puzzle. But he's obviously an important part and the Mariners expect him to help anchor the middle of their lineup and be a veteran leader of a young roster looking to turn things around from last year's 71-91 record.

With their 10-year commitment on a $24-million-a-year contract, the Mariners will promote him as the face of their franchise and that effort began at FanFest, which concludes Sunday with another appearance from their newest star.

"I wouldn't say it's only my face," Cano said. "You have to talk about Felix [Hernandez]. He's a guy that has been here so long. He's one of the best in the game. But like I said, that comes with the territory. I'm going to do my best with the young guys and motivate the guys in what it takes to win games and how fun it is when you win and go to the playoffs and win a World Series. I'll share my experience to motivate the guys to go out there and play hard every single day."

Cano will face questions along the way, persistent queries as to why he'd leave New York for a franchise across the country that hasn't been in the postseason since 2001.

"A lot of people ask that," Cano said. "But I've been coming here for nine years. I like this city. I always come and walk around the city. And this is a team to watch. I talked to the owners, and they're going to build a team to win a championship. And that's where you want to go."

Cano will keep things pointed forward as much as he can. Questions about the Yankees were quickly stifled when he chatted with a few reporters in the Safeco Field dugout prior to his fan interaction.

"I don't want to talk about that anymore," he said. "I'll just leave that in the past. Now I'm with the Seattle Mariners and I just want to talk about Seattle. It's a new city, new teammates, a new manager. I just can't wait for the season."

The Mariners are eager as well to see what Cano brings both on and off the field. The Mariners felt they needed a proven hitter in the middle of their batting order, both to aid the offense and take pressure off some of their younger players as they progress.

But they also need a boost in energy among a fan base looking for progress. And Cano's willingness to fly in from his offseason home in the Dominican Republic, trading 90-degree warmth for the January chill of the Northwest, was a welcome beginning.

"It's great," general manager Jack Zduriencik said as Cano talked to fans nearby. "It's tremendous that he's come in for this. We're glad that he did and some of the other players will have an opportunity to meet him this weekend. It'll give him a little flavor of something different, the fan base, and start it out the right way. I think it's good for him and the community."

Cano said he's been working out this winter, as usual, with a handful of players in the Dominican. He hasn't had time yet to search for a home in Seattle, but was going to begin that process Sunday before flying home.

But he has spent enough time in Seattle, and watched enough football on television, to know the city is bursting with Seahawks pride as they prepare for the Super Bowl. He'd love to help bring similar enthusiasm to Safeco Field as soon as possible.

"This city is about sports," he said. "You can see how the Seahawks are playing and how packed the stadium gets. Even soccer. It's all about winning. I know if I'm a fan, I want to go see a good team. I want to go see a team that really performs and does really good. This is a sports city and I just can't wait for the season."

What will it take to get that buzz back with the Mariners?

"We're going to have to win first," said Cano. "We want to get the fan support. But if you want to get that the whole year, we have to play hard, do our best and try to win every game."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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