“(Mets vice president for player development) Tony Bernazard came and talked to me, he said we need catchers in the organization,” said Robinson Cancel. “You can help us out," Bernazard told him.
"That’s fine, I’ll go anywhere you want me to,” Cancel replied.
Cancel’s attitude is not surprising considering he has already been practically everywhere, with stops in seven Major League organizations and two independent leagues.
A one-time top catching prospect, Cancel was drafted by Milwaukee in the 16th round of the 1994 draft. He made his Major League debut as a September call-up in 1999, struggling to a .182 average in 15 games.
But by 2002, after the right-hander underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder—an injury compounded by a broken collar bone on his right side—Cancel’s time with Milwaukee was up, and his travels began.
“I had surgery on it and after that it hasn’t been the same,” Cancel said of his throwing arm. “I feel like if I had the same arm (strength) right now, I’d be in the big leagues. I don’t know, maybe that’s what keeps me in the minor leagues. I feel like I have the talent to play in the big leagues, if not as an everyday player, as a backup, pinch-hitting or something like that.”
Last season with Edinburg of the independent United League, Cancel hit .297 with 10 home runs and 52 RBI. He finished fourth in the league with 28 stolen bases, astounding for a catcher generously listed at 190 pounds.
This year, Cancel joined the Binghamton Mets on June 2 after spending five days with the team in April. He was sent down from New Orleans, where he hit .241 in 12 games.
As a B-Met, Cancel is batting .250 in 15 games. His one home run came on Sunday the 24th, a two-run blast to left that put the B-Mets up 7-0 in an 8-3 victory over the Harrisburg Senators at NYSEG Stadium. He made the start in left field.
“(Cancel) knows the game of baseball,” said B-Mets manager Mako Oliveras. “He’s a quiet type of guy that’s always aware, always trying to take advantage of the other team’s weaknesses. He’s the third catcher here, a guy that is going to help me out coming from the bench: playing some outfield, first, third, catcher. He’s just a survivor, a blue collar dirt-mover.”
Despite his age and experience, Cancel said he does not take a necessarily active role in the clubhouse.
“I like to be my own person and I’m not trying to tell people to do whatever,” he said. “But sometimes it’s good to help guys, but I don’t like to manage unless I’m a manager, because that’s what the manager’s here for. I just follow the rules here and go about business. If somebody needs something they can come ask me, I’ve been around.”
At the end of his playing days, Cancel could well be the one doing the managing. Oliveras has watched Cancel play in the Puerto Rican winter league as a member of the team he manages, Santurce, and as a member of opposing teams for years. Both natives of Puerto Rico, they won a championship together in 1999.
“He is very, very smart,” Oliveras said. “I think when his career is over he can be a very good coach or a very good manger.”
For now, Cancel continues to grind as a player. He works with B-Mets hitting coach Nelson Silverio on patience at the plate and not over-swinging, trying to keep things simple in order to get a good pitch to hit.
Defensively, Cancel said he is trying to get better wherever he is playing: “Like if I play outfield I try to get better, or I play first or catch. I’m trying to get better everyday, even in this last part of my career.”
All of Cancel’s efforts, his nearly a decade and a half in professional baseball, have been in hope of one thing.
“I’m trying to be proud of what I did,” he said. “When I retire, I want to say ‘Hey, I tried to do the best I could to get to the big leagues.’ The little things maybe can help you to get there. I tried the best I can to see somebody give me another chance.”