NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi said it best. The subject was Robinson Cano and, specifically, how he'd be received in his first trip back to the Bronx wearing a Mariners road uniform instead of the classic pinstripes. The Yankees' manager smiled ever so slightly.
"Whenever you're a player who was a great player somewhere and you decided to leave and you come back, I've always felt that the people who are cheering for you are showing their respect," Girardi said. "And the people who are booing you are really showing their respect for you -- because they didn't want you to leave."
But Cano left. After playing nine years for the Yanks and winning a World Series and developing into a player widely regarded as the best second baseman in the game, Cano became a free agent. And then he was gone after signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with Seattle. So, of course, this was a date that was circled in red on his mental calendar.
And, yes, Cano was booed. And, yes, that drowned out the cheers. In five at-bats, Cano struck out twice and didn't get a ball out of the infield. But he drove in a run with a groundout, had an infield single, stole second and scored a run. And the Mariners won Tuesday night's series opener at Yankee Stadium, 6-3.
"There's nothing I can do about [the boos]; that's something I can't control," Cano said with a smile after the game. "I'm not surprised. I just have to go out and play my game. That's not a distraction. It was weird the first three or four innings."
Cano admitted that he might have hoped for a friendlier welcome.
"Not only me, but anybody," he said, still smiling. "I knew I was going to get boos and cheers, but you're always going to hear the boos more than the cheers. I really had fun with it. It didn't bother me at all."
Even before the game, Cano hinted that he knew what to expect.
"I understand about fans," Cano said. "I know I'm not here anymore. Now I'm with the Mariners. I know it's not the same thing as playing for the home team. You always want to hear something good, but if not, I understand. I just want to take this time to say thanks for all the good times here."
A light but persistent rain kept the tarp on the field until a half-hour before the first pitch, canceling a chance for greetings around the batting cage and for early arriving fans to express their sentiments, pro or con.
Doing his sprints in shallow left field shortly before the game started, Cano intersected with Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and they exchanged a brief handshake. A few minutes later, Jeter yelled something that made his former double-play partner smile.
The first real reaction came when the starting lineups were announced. When Cano -- batting third and playing second base -- was announced, the boos drowned out the cheers. The booing was even louder when he came to bat with two outs and nobody on base in the top of the first. Cano reacted with a smile.
"I know I'm not a Yankee anymore," Cano said before the game. "I have to understand the fans. They're not going to cheer for you. They're going to boo you because you're on the opposite team. I understand that. But I've got a lot of love from these fans."
There were also fans who gave Cano a standing ovation and a group that waved a flag from his native Dominican Republic in the left-field stands.
After signing with the Mariners, Cano said he thought the Yanks didn't show him enough respect. He didn't back off Tuesday, but he also refused to be drawn into any sort of controversy. On three occasions, Cano politely but pointedly said he wasn't interested in discussing the past.
"I already talked about that and said what I had to say," Cano said. "Now I'm just looking forward, looking forward to the game. One thing I understand is that this is a business. I can't control the Yankees. I can control myself. They made a decision, and I guess we're both happy -- because I'm happy where I am now. I'm happy to be a Mariner, and good luck to them."
Playing in Seattle is different than playing in New York, Cano conceded, but he also pointed out that the Mariners have had only two homestands, making it difficult to make a fair comparison.
"But I can tell you I'm happy now with the fans, the organization and my teammates," Cano said.
Girardi also avoided stirring the pot when asked if he thought the Yankees had shown Cano respect.
"I think sometimes during negotiations, players can get passionate, heated and want certain things to happen, [but] $175 million is a lot of money for seven years," Girardi said. "And I think we've always respected Robby Cano and his talents, and [we] will continue to respect Robby Cano and his talents. I think you'll see that in how we try to pitch to him. We're not going to put it right down the middle of the plate. As far as not respecting Robby, I think we all respect Robby."
Girardi was asked if, deep in his heart, he though Cano would really leave.
"I knew he would be pretty sought after and that there would be clubs that would [offer] some long-term deals," Girardi said. "I've mentioned that I thought Albert Pujols would always be a Cardinal, and it didn't happen. There are those certain guys you envision are going to play in a certain spot, but most of the time, it doesn't happen. That's part of the game, and we understand it."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.