TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Felix Lopez stood on the top step of the New York Yankees' dugout, chewing on an unlit cigar stub and flashing the smile of a proud father.
Second baseman Robinson Cano was back on the field with the Yankees after leading the Dominican Republic to the championship of the World Baseball Classic and Lopez greeted him with a big hug near the batting cage.
"His success with the Dominican Republic just shows he's a great player and we're proud of him," said Lopez, the Yankees' chief international officer. "I've seen him since he was a baby and I call him my son sometimes because he grew up in this organization."
Cano, a four-time All-Star who returned to camp Thursday, was MVP of the WBC after hitting .469 with two homers and six RBIs. Now, it's back to work with the Yankees, who are battling injuries and skeptics as the regular season nears.
Cano singled and scored in the Yankees' 6-1 loss to Minnesota in his first game back.
"You want to go there and just win it all," he said. "I would say one job is already done, so now I just focus in here and get ready for the season."
Lopez, the son-in-law of former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, was born in Cuba. But he watched the WBC with a close eye on the Dominican Republic for a few reasons. Of course, Lopez wanted to see Cano play and Yankees bench coach Tony Pena manage the team. Also, the Yankees hosted the Dominican Republic squad at their spring-training complex before the tournament.
"We have a very tight relationship with the people of the Dominican Republic," Lopez said. "We have an academy there. We have great players coming up throughout all levels of the minor leagues. We have great players on the major league team right now. We have a great relationship with the government of the Dominican Republic and we are very proud that we were a little part of their success with their home field being here."
The injury-depleted Yankees are missing Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson going into the regular season. If they don't end up winning a 28th World Series title, at least they had a connection to one championship this year.
"We are very proud the Dominican Republic won," Lopez said. "Maybe some of their great achievement will rub off on us."
There was a down side to the WBC for the Yankees. Teixeira sustained a partially torn tendon sheath in his right wrist on March 5 while with the U.S. team. He could miss up to two months of the regular season.
"It's always a major concern and sometimes we walk on pins and needles when we see one of our players go over there and go all-out so early in the season," Lopez said. "It's something we have to weigh. It's great for the Dominican Republic to win, but it's hard to have a situation like Teixeira get hurt. But that's part of the game. If he didn't get hurt there, he could've gotten hurt coming out of his house and falling down the steps."
For Lopez and others, injuries don't take away from the WBC.
"I think it was a great success," he said. "It's a good thing we have passionate teams like the Dominican Republic playing for their country. It was unique to see that camaraderie between all those players and all that excitement they brought to the game."
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