MIAMI, FL — On May 3, 2005, a very young Dominican player appeared in Yankee Stadium for the first day of his professional baseball career in the majors. His name was Robinson Canó. He was called up from his minor league stint with Columbus as he was tearing up the minors with a batting average of .330 in 108 at bats.
On that May 3rd date, I was there at Yankee Stadium and made it my business to introduce myself to the young player that had been in the news as the replacement for Tony Womack at second base. As usual, I waited for the circus of reporters present at the press conference to end before I decided to enter the clubhouse and introduce myself to the new kid. After they were all gone, and I saw Robinson by himself sitting in front of his locker I approached him and introduced myself in Spanish without the use of any interpreter. It was just us two. I told him who I was and explained that Latino Sports was more than a news organization interested in his stats. I told him that as a Latino neighbor that lived walking distance to Yankee Stadium that I was also there to help him if he ever needed me.
That was the beginning of a relationship that has continued for 19 years. During those early days of 2005 Robinson would not want anyone to interpret for him other than me. Sometimes it was somewhat awkward because I would be sitting in the audience as a reporter, and he would see me and before answering any questions he would motion for me to come up and translate for him excusing the person who was assigned to interpret for him. He would always say that I interpreted his feelings better and that he felt more comfortable with me.
In 2007, Canó came back from the Dominican Republic somewhat sad and affected by the death of a close friend, Luis Romero, in San Pedro de Marcoris who had a serious motorcycle accident.
Canó and I spoke about that incident, and he explained that the hospital had no ambulance, so they had to put his friend in a jeep and take him to Santo Domingo, an hour away. He died when he got there. Canó was saddened that there was no ambulance and said to me that perhaps if there would have been an ambulance with first aid his friend could have been saved. He asked me if I could help him get an ambulance.
I had no idea of how to get an ambulance, but as I have always been taught by my elders, “God works in mysterious ways.” I was a board member of the Martin Luther King Health Center which was affiliated to Bronx Lebanon Hospital. I called my friend, the Senior Vice President of Community Affairs, Bob Sancho and explained Canó’s request. Sancho told me he would get back to me. In a matter of days, we had a solution. The hospital was about to transition to newer ambulances as part of a routine that takes place after every few years of service. The rest was history, Robinson was able to get an ambulance to his hometown in the Dominican Republic.
Our relationship continued stronger as Robinson won our prestigious LatinoMVP Rookie of the year award and later also won the 2011 American League LatinoMVP Award. We continued having a great relationship until he left the Yankees for a very distant Seattle Mariners team, not only on the other extreme side of the country, but also on another time zone. I was disappointed because I believed that Robinson had all the qualifications to become the first Latino team captain of the New York Yankees so much that we had written several articles alluding to that possibility.
Time and history have gone by, Canó eventually returned to New York to the NY Mets where we once again continued our close relationship. We were happy to see Robinson back in New York.
After leaving the Mets I had not seen Robinson until this past Saturday after the Dominican win over Puerto Rico in the third day of games here in the Caribbean Series. I attended the Dominican press conference late which was packed by majority Dominican reporters. There were no seats, so I walked quietly behind the back rows as I looked at the dais where I saw the Dominican manager and to my surprise Robinson was seated as well. When he noticed me walking in the back, he looked at me and made a motion pointing to me and tapping his heart.
After the press conference ended, he stepped off the podium and came straight to me and gave me a long and tight hug. We took a picture and he continued to walk with me excusing himself from the many reporters that wanted to interview him. He put his arm around me almost in a headlock and we spoke for a quick minute. I told him that though his Dominican team had defeated Puerto Rico that I was not pissed that he hit a home run off my country’s team.
In fact, I was glad that he broke the dry spell as Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were the only two teams that had not hit a home run in the tournament. He smiled, gave me a tight handshake, and jetted to the locker room.
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