Cano hoping to defend Derby title

The first time Jose Cano threw batting practice to his son, Robinson, was about a quarter century ago. The son thinks he was 3 or 4. The father thinks it happened around age 6. But from the moment it happened, Robinson knew what he wanted.

It didn't matter to him that he grew up in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic -- the city known in the 1980s for producing shortstops. He was born with different baseball blood.

"I just wanted to hit," Robinson said.

Jose grew up a shortstop -- the signature position of the best players from that region -- but by the time he turned 18 and signed with the New York Yankees, he was a pitcher. He played only three games in the minors before he bounced from the Atlanta Braves' system to the Houston Astros' system.

He briefly made the big leagues with Houston for six games in 1989 -- even picking up a win in his final major league appearance, a seven-inning, two-run gem in Cincinnati.

Jose never made it back to the major league stage again until a year ago, when he was suddenly at the center of its universe. Robinson surprised Jose, asking him to lean on his quarter century of experience and pitch to him during the Home Run Derby. With David Ortiz, Prince Fielder, Jose Bautista and Matt Kemp in the competition in Arizona, Jose didn't really think Robinson could win.

"Those people have a lot of power," Jose said.

But then father and son put on a show. The nation got to see what people around the Yankees already were starting to believe. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez own bigger names, but the Yankees are Cano's team now because of his seemingly effortless swing.

On that July night a year ago, the Canos beat Adrian Gonzalez for the Home Run Derby title. The elation washed over both father and son.

"To win in front of all those people, that was unbelievable," Jose said. "I was crying a little bit."

For them, it wasn't some made-for-TV event. It was a moment to share with the world -- what the father meant to the son and what the son meant to the father.

"He's my mentor," Robinson said. "He's my everything. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be here."

After '89, Jose spent a few years trying to return to the majors but then went on to have a career in Taiwan and Mexico. Robinson followed his father to Mexico for a few seasons, and the rest of the time he would watch him play winter ball, always right behind him, learning the game.

After a slow start this season, Robinson arrives in Kansas City for Monday's Home Run Derby and Tuesday's All-Star Game as one of the hottest players in all of baseball. During the first 27 games of the season, Cano slumped as badly as Albert Pujols did. He had only one homer and four RBIs to go with a .255 batting average and an OPS of .657. In 27 games in June, he hit .340 with 11 homers, 27 RBIs and an .OPS of 1.146. When Cano took off, the Yankees -- with a huge assist from their pitching staff -- did as well. Now the question is, where can Cano lead them this year?

In 2009, the last time the Yankees won the World Series, Cano had no homers and six RBIs during the 15-game playoff run. Rodriguez led the Yankees to that championship. With Cano turning 30 in October, it is now his turn to be the one out front for the Yankees.

Jeter is back at the All-Star Game this year, too. But despite his hot start, it isn't a sure bet that Jeter will even finish with a batting average above .300. Cano, even with his slow start, may end up in the American League MVP discussion. He is making second base the new position for the best player on the field.

"In the Dominican [Republic], you want to play shortstop," Jose said. "I played shortstop before I signed as a pitcher. We always watched the game on TV in the Dominican, and we think that the best player in the game is the shortstop."

Robinson never played shortstop because he didn't move quickly enough, and he became known as a hitter, destined for the corner positions, the father said.

"They always complain that he couldn't run and was a little lazy," Jose said.

Robinson signed as a third baseman before moving to second base. In 2004, he really thought he could be a major leaguer for the first time. He hit .301, then made a trip to the All-Star Futures Game in Houston. Still just a kid, only 21 years old, he watched his future double-play partner in action.

"I remember in '04, I went to the Futures Game and I saw Jeter there," Robinson said. "He said hi to me."

It provided inspiration for Robinson. Cano entered in the shadow of A-Rod and Jeter, but now they are his wingmen.

This year, Cano has a big "C" stitched into his Derby jersey. He is the AL captain and perhaps the favorite. The father and son will be out in front of the baseball world again, Jose throwing to Robinson, like they have done for a quarter century.

"I hope we continue to do the same thing as last year," Jose said.