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A switch-hitting Mets shortstop with impossible-to-miss enthusiasm and a five-borough smile.
“I know Francisco,” Jose Reyes wrote in a text message. “He’s a tremendous ballplayer and a good guy, and I think he will do very well here in New York. He’s a guy who brings a lot of energy and excitement, and that always goes well in this town.”
A switch-hitting Puerto Rican with remarkable polish and poise.
“I told him, ‘You have a chance to do some great things in this game,’” Roberto Alomar said. “You have a chance to be in the Hall of Fame.”
A New York shortstop who can elevate his sport as well as his team.
“In my mind, I think he’s this generation’s Derek Jeter,” Marlins regional crosschecker Mike Soper said. “He’s that type of guy.”
“I remember sitting at the Cape [Cod] with his agent, David Meter. Our negotiations weren’t going anywhere,” said Brad Grant, the Indians’ vice president of baseball operations, strategy and administration. “David was like, ‘He wants to be LeBron. He wants to be up on the Sherwin-Williams building. He wants to be the face of the franchise. He wants to be Mr. Cleveland.”
Yes, Mets fans can think real big about Francisco Lindor, their newest dynamo, whose arrival last week in a trade from the Indians (along with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco) reignited the Steve Cohen honeymoon.
On Monday, the Mets will formally introduce Lindor in a Zoom news conference, and the 27-year-old, who can become a free agent next offseason, surely will face questions about his long-term plans. Such questions stand as the largest surrounding Lindor, for even in the wake of a career-worst showing during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, no questions whatsoever exist about how good he can be or how bright his star can shine. Already, he has made four All-Star teams and placed on four American League Most Valuable Player ballots, making Alomar’s prescribed ambition quite reasonable.
Really, Lindor’s baseball life has been defined far more by conviction than doubt. Which helps explain how someone can acquire the nickname “Mr. Smile.” Or, conversely, how the confidence and comfort reflected in such a perpetual smile can lead to certainty.
At the age of 12, Lindor, already displaying promise after learning the game from his father, Miguel, moved from Puerto Rico to Central Florida so he could enroll in Montverde Academy, an international school known for strong athletic programs, simplifying a path to professional ball. Lindor learned English and acclimated to life in the United States’ mainland as he refined his game.
Soper, then the Indians’ area scout, recalled seeing Lindor for the first time during his sophomore year at Montverde, at a tournament in Winter Haven, Fla.
“All I can say is, he was one of the most exciting players I’ve ever scouted,” Soper said. “The energy level was off the charts. He was very intense, but in a good way. He was smiling all the time. He had fun. He had energy playing the game. You could tell that.”
Other scouts were with Soper that day; Lindor emerged too quickly to ever qualify as a hidden treasure. Tim Layden, a graduate of Long Island’s Deer Park High School, pitched in the minor leagues for seven years. Upon the conclusion of his career in 2010, Layden received an offer to coach Montverde for Lindor’s senior season. Layden studied up on the young man, widely regarded as one of the best prospects for the upcoming amateur draft, and grew increasingly intrigued.
“That’s what brought me down to Florida,” said Layden, who now works as an attorney in California. “As I was trying to decide what to do next … to even be a small part of such a player’s journey, some coaches and players wait lifetimes for this.”
Layden served as a counsel for Lindor as he endured the car wash that comes with being such a hot commodity. Said Layden: “It was exhausting in some respects, and in some respects truly amazing, to watch how he did handle it with every team in the top 10 coming down for private workouts, individual meetings and assessments. You saw the way he worked. I remember commenting on him, ‘He carries himself like he’s already there.’ ”
In what turned out to be a stellar top of the 2011 draft — the Pirates chose Gerrit Cole first, the Diamondbacks popped Trevor Bauer third and the Nationals grabbed Anthony Rendon with the sixth pick — the Indians, going eighth, contemplated both Lindor and Javier Baez, also a Puerto Rico native shortstop who had moved to a Florida high school, Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville. The two teenagers even faced off against one another.
“One of my highlights memory-wise was the way both of those guys played: their passion, their exuberance, the flash and the way they brought it in a positive way,” said Grant, then Cleveland’s director of amateur scouting. The Indians ultimately went with Lindor, with the Cubs selecting Baez on the very next turn, because they thought his defense made him more likely to stick at shortstop.
“We didn’t expect the offensive side to be what it’s become,” Grant said. “Watching him grow offensively, the overall game he now possesses, is something even we couldn’t predict.”
The bubbly personality, on the other hand, “That’s always been something that’s been part of him: His love for the game, his passion for the game,” Grant said. “His normal personality when he’s out there is, he’s smiling. That’s where he’s happy.”
Lindor wears number 12 in honor of Alomar, one of four Puerto Ricans in the Baseball Hall of Fame, who wore that number for all of his employers, including the Mets.
“He impacted every aspect of the game,” Lindor told The Toronto Star of Alomar in 2016. “He played hard. He stole bases. He was smart and he always played the game the right way.”
The two men grew closer once Lindor reached the Indians, where Roberto’s brother Sandy Alomar Jr. was one of his coaches and became Cleveland’s interim manager in 2020 when skipper Terry Francona stepped away to deal with medical issues.
“The first time I heard of him is when he got drafted,” said Alomar, who works as a special assistant for the Blue Jays. “I always heard the news of why he wore number 12. I got to meet him in Toronto with my brother [during an Indians-Blue Jays series]. He wanted one of my jerseys, so I gave him one and signed it, ‘I love the way you play the game. Keep up the good work. I’m a fan of yours.’ ”
The two men connect and converse each time their clubs play.
Alomar of course played second base, not shortstop, and like Soper’s current Marlins boss Jeter, most would describe his playing style as more cool or graceful, making the hard look easy, than electric like Lindor’s. Reyes, meanwhile, possessed more speed and less power than Lindor, who surpassed the 30-homer mark each year from 2017 through 2019. As for a LeBron James level of fame, well, Lindor has come to the right place to attempt to clear that high bar.
If Lindor has influences, aspirations and comparables, though, he’s ultimately not a carbon copy of anyone. Now he gets to showcase who he is on baseball’s biggest stage. Mr. Smile hits the Big Apple.
“I’ve had a couple of my colleagues ask me [since the trade], what do I think?” Layden said. “I told them, ‘If I’m going to put my money on one person who will be able to handle the spotlight and everything that entails, and stay grounded with focus on the field, that’s Francisco Lindor.’ ”
“I think he will be good for the Mets,” Alomar said. “He’s a young guy. They’re getting him at the right time. He really loves the game of baseball. He’s a good teammate, he’s a good kid. I think he’s going to be surrounded by great guys with the new ownership. It’s gonna be a great team.”
Like any transaction, this could go wrong. Yet it could go as right as anything the Mets have done in a very long time.
Think real big. All you have to do is follow Lindor’s lead.