Last week, a few hours before the Phillies and Mets squared off for the first of 19 games this season, Jean Segura and Robinson Cano came together on the field at Citizens Bank Park. Segura went in for a handshake, but Cano wrapped him in a bear hug and hoisted him clear off the ground.
It was an appropriate greeting. Cano has been lifting up the Phillies shortstop, literally and figuratively, for years.
“Everything I have in baseball right now is from him,” Segura said this past week. “If he didn’t help me, I don’t even know where I’d be.”
Two concurrent trades last December turned Segura and Cano from middle-infield teammates with the Mariners into foes on opposite sides of a recently dormant National League East rivalry that finally appears to be regaining its verve. But regardless of their professional circumstance, they are as close as brothers, having leaned on each other through the toughest of personal crises.
It all began five years ago. Segura was coming off an all-star season with the Brewers and looking as if he belonged at the head of the class in a bumper crop of young shortstops that was beginning to make its way to the majors.
But his world shattered on July 11, 2014, when his 9-month-old son, Janniel, died suddenly in the Dominican Republic. Segura has never divulged publicly what happened, only that the baby unexpectedly became ill. He went home to bury his son and mourn with his family, and upon rejoining the Brewers a week later, he struggled to find joy even in baseball.
Segura’s grief lingered through the winter and into the next season, too. After batting .246 with five homers and a .614 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 2014, he hit .257 with six homers and a .616 OPS in 2015. Among hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances in 2014-15, Segura had the third-lowest OPS (.615), ahead of only Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton (.612) and Royals infielder Omar Infante (.596).
"I was lost," Segura said. "I lost my love of the game because I was having a difficult moment at that time. I think I needed somebody to help me, to tell me how good of a player I can be and keep working with me to where I could be successful again."
At the suggestion of a mutual friend in New York, Segura sent a text message to Cano asking if they could meet. Cano obliged, even inviting Segura to his home in the Dominican Republic, putting him up, and introducing him to Luis Mercedes, who played briefly for the Orioles in the early 1990s and worked as a personal hitting coach to Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Albert Pujols, and several other major-leaguers.
Segura was always a contact hitter, putting the bat on the ball at a high rate and rarely striking out. But Mercedes got him to widen his stance and lower his hands, adjustments designed to reduce a natural hitch in his swing and help him drive the ball in the air rather than beating it into the ground.
Cano, meanwhile, found a way to get Segura to laugh again.
“This guy did it all for me,” Segura said. “He brought me to his house. I worked with him, went to the gym with him, practiced with him. It’s just amazing what he did for me. It was a lot. He’s a great guy, a great human.”
It helped, too, that Segura got traded. The Brewers sent him to the Diamondbacks, and the combination of a change of scenery and the mechanical adjustments led to a revival in 2016. He batted .319 with 20 homers and an .867 OPS and led the league with 203 hits.
“The biggest difference I found is I hit with more power: more doubles, more homers,” Segura said. “I stayed more behind the baseball because my hands were so low. It wasn’t letting me go forward too much.”
But a new regime took over in Arizona after that season, and Segura was on the move again. This time, he was headed to Seattle, where he would get to team up with Cano. It was baseball bliss for Segura, who batted .302 with 21 homers and a .765 OPS over the next two seasons. From 2016 through 2018, he notched 538 hits, seventh most in the majors.
Last May, it was Segura’s turn to support Cano, who received an 80-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s joint drug agreement. Segura said he almost cried upon hearing the news, but he also backed Cano publicly.
"He's one of those guys that you have to respect, even though it was his fault," Segura said. "He made a mistake. Everybody can make a mistake."
The Mariners fell short of making the playoffs last season, then held a clearance sale on their best players. The Mets took on Cano's salary as part of a Dec. 3 trade for star closer Edwin Diaz. Later that day, the Mariners dealt Segura for first baseman Carlos Santana and faded shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford, a trade that served as a "springboard" to the rest of the Phillies' transformative offseason, according to general manager Matt Klentak.
Segura started strong before suffering a mild hamstring strain Tuesday night in a game against the Mets. He then went on the 10-day injured list on Saturday. He was batting .328 with an .861 OPS, and despite missing a few games he was still leading the Phillies with 22 hits, including a decisive 14th-inning home run last Sunday against the Marlins. It’s been a continuation of the last three seasons.
“We try to lean on a guy’s past success as kind of a predictor for what might happen next,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Jean is a contact guy. He’s a hard contact guy. And he finds holes and gets hits. Why would we think that anything else was going to happen?”
But Segura has been largely overshadowed by the Phillies’ other offensive stars. He insists that’s fine with him. Let Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and, of course, Bryce Harper get all the attention. Segura is content to just keep getting hits.
"I don't care if people talk about Bryce, Hoskins, everybody. It's good for them," he said. "For me, it's simple. I'm at the point in my career that all I want is winning. I can go in there and enjoy my game."