Cano and father team up on and off the field
Yankees second baseman leans on dad for advice about career and life
Robinson Cano flashed that million-dollar smile and laughed when he was asked if he planned to have his father, Jose, throw to him again in this year's State Farm Home Run Derby contest. The answer was so obvious.
On that stage, there is no one else in the world that Cano would rather see from 60 feet and six inches. The Canos will reunite next month on the diamond at Citi Field, and the Yankees slugger hopes to reclaim the homer-hitting title they won together in 2011.
"He means everything for me, you know? Everything that I know about baseball, the love that I have for the game -- he was my role model," Cano said.
Cano's father made it to the big leagues for six games with the Astros in 1989 and also pitched professionally for the Yankees and Braves. Cano fondly recalls carving out time to spend with his dad during the summer months when school was out -- even riding the Minor League buses on occasion.
"When you're a kid, you look up to your dad," Cano said. "My dad always wanted me to be a baseball player. He'd always tell me, 'I know what kind of talent you are. I know what kind of player you can be.'
"As a kid, you don't know. You don't know who you can be in the future, because you see everything is so far away. Now I understand what he was saying back then. He means everything for me. I owe everything to him."
Cano was born in the Dominican Republic's baseball-rich city of San Pedro de Macoris, and the story of Cano's first name -- an enduring nod to barrier-breaking great Jackie Robinson -- has been well-examined.
But Cano said that his mother, Claribel, had another idea for her son's name, and that his father actually took the paperwork into his own hands.
"He admired Jackie. My mom didn't want that name, but she was sick and had to stay a few extra days in the hospital," Cano said. "He went and did it. What can you say? You're happy to have your baby, your first child, so there's nothing you can say."
In time, Cano learned of Robinson's legacy and continues to pay tribute by wearing No. 24 with the Yankees -- Robinson's No. 42 in reverse. Long before that, Cano said that his father made efforts to involve him with his baseball life.
"He said that when I was three days old, he took me in his arms to the field and showed me off to his teammates," Cano said. "After that, when I was able to walk, he took me to the games. That's what my mom told me."
Cano said that his father was supportive, but their relationship was one of long distances. Cano spent three years -- seventh, eighth and ninth grades -- living with his mother in Newark, N.J. before they returned to the Dominican, and credits her with helping him stay out of trouble and remain focused on his schoolwork.
"Most of the time, I spent on the phone with my dad," Cano said. "I'd only see him three months of the year. We just always had good moments. He'd say, 'I want you to go to school and play baseball.' I'm not a guy who was trying to go out and do this or that. I loved baseball and I was no trouble. I was nice."
Now that his playing career is over, Cano's father operates a baseball academy that has roots in the Dominican Republic and the U.S. That more flexible schedule has allowed father and son to spend more time together in recent years.
"Now, it's easier for him to come here," Cano said. "When I go home, I always see him. It's easier to say, 'Dad, I want you to come this weekend' or whatever. It's great. We talk every day on the phone."
Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long still has the most consistent exposure to Cano's swing, but Cano said that there is no one who knows the mechanics of his left-handed stroke like his father, who watches Yankees games on television and can spot hitches easily.
Cano said he also leans on his father off the field as well, which figures to prove especially useful as Cano continues negotiations with the Yankees on a potential long-term contract extension. Cano estimated that he and his father think similarly "maybe 80 percent" of the time, and thus he has come to value that input.
"Even if I've got the last decision to say yes, I always ask my dad and my mom," Cano said. "It's always good to hear their opinions. Your dad is always going to look out for you and want the best for you. If it's something that I know for sure, I would do it, but if it's not I'm going to call my dad and my mom and see what they think about it."
As Cano's big league career has flourished, his close relationship with his father has been a constant. Cano said that he often thinks about that night, frozen in time at Arizona's Chase Field in 2011, when he and his father both proudly reveled in their Home Run Derby championship.
"We were so happy to do it together," Cano said. "I always dreamed as a kid to play with my dad, or at least face my dad one time. I never got the chance. To have a great moment like that in the Derby, that was one of the favorite moments of my life."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.