Robinson Cano practices leadership skills at WBC

Robinson Cano of the Dominican Republic looks on

Robinson Cano of the Dominican Republic looks on from the dugout before the semifinal of the World Baseball Classic at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. (March 18, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Win or lose, it's back to work later this week for Robinson Cano, who left his day job with the Yankees for what has seemed like baseball's version of spring break during the World Baseball Classic.

Or maybe it's just the way the Dominican Republic plays the game. And practices it. OK, lives it. But when this WBC run is over, Cano must return to reality, the 24/7 full-court press that is life around the Yankees, with the daily grind and the inevitable discussion about his pending free agency.

That's part of the reason why Cano has been enjoying his time at this tournament so much. He not only is surrounded by teammates and countrymen such as Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez but has lived a relatively calm existence, free from clubhouse access by reporters and relentless scrutiny.

"Well, both are, I would say, my job," Cano said before Monday night's semifinal against the Netherlands at AT&T Park. "But right now, we're talking about the WBC. And when I get back to spring training, it's going to be a different story."

That story, in Cano's mind, can wait. Unlike the powerhouse Dominicans, who entered action Monday 6-0, the Yankees have issues. They'll need to lean on Cano during the first month of the season, and probably longer, as Curtis Granderson (forearm) and Mark Teixeira (wrist) heal.

In the meantime, Cano will savor the remaining days with the D.R., which goes about its business more like a high school team. When the Dominicans took the field Monday for the team stretch, the first thing they did as a group was sprint -- yelling and barking -- to the wall in centerfield.

Unorthodox, sure, but the D.R. does things a little differently. So far, it's working, and no one has done it better than Cano, who entered Monday night batting .519 (14-for-27) with four doubles, two homers and six RBIs.

"I have to feel blessed to get to play with him," Reyes said. "He's a superstar and makes me better. He makes everybody around him better. It's a good preparation for me."

As much as Cano appreciates playing with Reyes, he's already been part of one of the planet's best double-play combinations with future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. He's received a first-class education in the Bronx, and this WBC is more about Cano leaving his imprint on the tournament than vice versa.

"He's the total package," said Tony Peña, the Yankees' bench coach now serving as the D.R. manager. "Now he's starting to see himself as giving direction to all the players and talking to the young players. That's going to help us and the Yankees."

In their fractured state, the graying Yankees could benefit from Cano taking on an expanded role, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Jeter is the longtime captain, but when Cano returns, only then will the team feel whole again. Or as close as it's going to get for a little while. And Cano is becoming more aware of his need to step up.

"You got Jeter, A-Rod, Mariano [as leaders on the Yankees]," Cano said. "All those guys, they've been there. One day, my time is going to come."

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