New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Canó did not tell the mesmerized, young ballplayers he met at Van Cortlandt Park on Saturday how tough things were for him when he was their age.
“We didn’t have any gloves sometimes and we played with broken shoes,” Canó said quietly, so none of the players from the Van Cortlandt Baseball League or their families could hear him.
“Nothing is easy, everything is hard work.”
Canó, who is named after Jackie Robinson, was born and spent a good part of his young life living in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. He also spent about three years living in the U.S., in Newark, N.J.
Johnny Arias, the president of the Van Cortlandt Baseball League, knew Cano’s father, José, from the days the two of them played minor league baseball together. Arias invited Robinson to the league’s opening day festivities because he sensed that the players would not only be inspired by meeting a Yankee, but by Canó’s life story.
His instincts were right on the money.
“I think we have a lot more resources than he had when he was our age,” said Johnny Arias Jr., who caught the first pitch Canó threw to open the VCBL’s new season.
Ricky Soto of the Giants said that meeting the big leaguer gives him and his teammates “hope and faith.”
Cubbies pitcher Alexander Sanchez said that while he expected the Yankee to be taller, he was impressed by his strong physique. But it was Canó’s insides that impressed the young hurler most.
“He cared enough about us that he came to see us,” said Alex. “He was kind. He signed everybody’s baseball.”
The Van Cortlandt Baseball League consists primarily of Bronx players aged 7 to 20, said Arias, who estimated that about 75 percent of the players and coaches have roots in the Dominican Republic.
“Meeting someone like him is a big motivation for these kids,” said Arias.
The Yankee star barely spent 20 minutes at Vannie before speeding off in a black Cadillac SUV with tinted windows and Jersey plates. But like most second basemen used to turning double plays he knew how to work fast. During his visit, he managed to toss a season-opening pitch from the mound, sign countless baseballs, and pose for dozens of photos.
And perhaps, change a few lives.
“Everyone grows up in the same neighborhood,” said young Diamondbacks centerfielder Brandon Cruz. “Him coming back to visit the neighborhood, now we have someone to look up to.”