Sanó on Nellie: 'He's part of my family'

Current Ray, ex-Twin Cruz is godfather to Sanó's daughter, and the two remain close

September 4th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- Soon after learning his wife was pregnant, approached with an offer. The veteran designated hitter had quickly forged a tight bond with the first baseman when he joined the Twins in 2019, so close that they considered each other family.

Sanó could think of no better person to be his child’s godfather, and Cruz couldn’t turn down his close friend. He agreed to the offer long before Sanó and his wife, Daniela, welcomed their daughter, Danea, in Minneapolis on Aug. 19.

“It's not a surprise, I guess, because we have a pretty good relationship,” Cruz said Friday, when Sanó’s Twins arrived at Tropicana Field to play Cruz’s Rays. “He's got probably other friends, but it's always nice to, I guess, be recognized. And especially [with] the relationship we have, it's an honor and a privilege.”

Because he was traded from the Twins to the Rays on July 22, Cruz hasn’t yet met his goddaughter. “Just pictures,” he said, smiling. But Cruz said it was an honor, one he’s grateful for, to be named Danea’s godfather. He and Sanó are still as close as ever, too, talking daily about baseball and life.

“To me, he is like my father, my brother, everything,” Sanó said Friday afternoon. “He told me all the time, we will have a relationship like a family, and I call [him] ‘Daddy.’ He did a lot of good stuff for me when he was with the organization, and we still have the same relationship.

“I feel like he's part of my family, and he's part of everything I do in baseball, because when he got here in 2019, he showed me a lot of good stuff. He taught me to be a good person, a good teammate, a good baseball player.”

For example, when Sanó was learning to play first base before the 2020 season, Cruz put together video of first basemen like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Freddie Freeman, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau for Sanó to watch and learn from. Cruz has said he continued to field pregame grounders at first base, in part, to help Sanó in his development there.

But apparently Sanó taught Cruz a thing or two as well. Sanó recently said he taught Cruz how to pick throws in the dirt, which is why Sanó was just as giddy as Cruz when the first-time first baseman picked a strong one-hop throw from shortstop Wander Franco to end the first inning of the Rays’ 3-1 win in Philadelphia on Aug. 24.

Sanó, 28, had received advance notice that Cruz was going to be making his first career appearance at first base, too. The night before the game, as soon as the 41-year-old former outfielder found out from Rays manager Kevin Cash, Cruz called Sanó to let him know. When he got the call, Sanó was leaving the hospital with Cruz’s new goddaughter.

“Really excited,” Sanó said. “When I saw Nellie playing first base and he called me, he showed me that he has respect for me and he appreciates [being] in the moment with me and what we did together. That’s something that I love about him.”

During their conversation, Cruz also shared that he’d be wearing a special glove in the field, one given to him by Sanó.

Sanó had two gloves made in 2019, the same model but in different colors: one for himself, one for Cruz. On each glove is the inscription “Dylan Angelica,” the names of Sanó’s son and the daughter he lost as an infant in 2014. That Cruz wore his glove made it even more special for Sanó to see his friend play first base.

“I feel happy because he's part of my family. We're not a family, but I feel like he's part of my family,” Sanó said. “As soon as I knew, I was really happy about ... the opportunity he got to play first base.”

Cruz spent plenty of time reacquainting himself with most of his former Twins teammates during batting practice before Friday’s series opener. The Rays and Twins played a series at Target Field from Aug. 13-15, when Minnesota took two of three from Tampa Bay.

“It's always nice to see former teammates, just to see how they're doing, what's new, what's going on. Now, I have to welcome them,” Cruz said. “It's more familiar now. I feel like I'm on the right side. So definitely, you want to beat those guys now. That's the goal. Hopefully we can win all three games and pay back what they did at their place.”