NEW YORK – Francisco Lindor still lives in a corner locker, closest to the exit. His home at Citi Field includes two rows of cleats, each pair brighter than the last: some orange, some yellow, some lilac, some shades of blue. For Friday night’s game, he chose the orange color of a blinding summer sun before it disappeared below the horizon.
Next to his locker is a double-doored, caramel-colored cabinet filled with more cleats, gloves and other gear, all featuring a New Balance logo. He has been the face of their baseball department since he had a corner locker in Cleveland.
Lindor chose forest green batting gloves and mint green shoes for batting practice on Friday afternoon. They weren’t his favorite pair of cleats; he prefers lilac and gray because they are soft and strong at the same time and grab his attention.
Everything about Lindor is bright and colorful or, as his old manager, Terry Francona, described it, “bubbly.” He’s always been that way, ever since he chased his dad’s grounders down a hill in Puerto Rico, ever since he raced around his elementary school yard every morning and ever since he roamed the visitors’ clubhouse in Detroit. on a Sunday morning in June 2015 with a designer suitcase and sunglasses ahead of his major-league debut. On Friday afternoon, she wore a rainbow-colored headband wrapped around her blonde-tinted curls.
He’d had days like this before, even in little Cleveland, days when it seemed like the world was pulling at him. He held court with an inquisitive media contingent about how he felt about facing his former club. When they dispersed, Eduardo Escobar sat in the locker next to him, slapped his housemate’s hands and told him, “You’re good now!” Clubhouse attendants, broadcasters, reporters, teammates and others filter into his space until he finally escapes to get his pregame hacks.
At one point, Tommy Hunter, a former Cleveland reliever who occupied a nearby locker, took off his glove, walked around the area and joked to an unsuspecting crowd, “Excuse me , my existence is cut off today, but maybe tomorrow.”
Not much has changed. Sure enough, Lindor has an Upper East Side address now and a second baby on the way. He could wander into Central Park on the morning of a home game and sometimes go unnoticed. But he’s the same guy. He brings the big-market aura to Cleveland, the billboard-worthy smile, the outgoing personality, the polish to deal with the media and sidestep public drama.
The only changes are the dugout faces. Only José Ramírez, Shane Bieber, Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak, Cal Quantrill and Josh Naylor remained on Cleveland’s roster, and Lindor barely played in the final four. Lindor knows and continues to be in contact with more Cleveland coaches and clubhouse staff than Cleveland players at this point. He said he follows the Guardians more than any other team.
“I pay attention to how they perform and how they perform,” he said. “I want them to do well.”
The players continue. Lists are rejected. And, two years after Cleveland and New York executed a six-player swap, everyone involved in the deal would likely agree that it was a necessary move for all parties.
“I’m happy where I am,” Lindor said. “I’m blessed to be here.”
In a bit of serendipity, in Lindor’s first two at-bats on Friday he hit the ball to the two players who replaced him in Cleveland’s middle infield, Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez.
Giménez made his major league debut for the Mets in 2020, during a season that was changed by the pandemic. Due to social distancing and the league’s health and safety protocols, he was placed by the guests in the clubhouse.
“Ironically, I think I’m in the same locker,” he said.
That makes the trip to the third base side of Citi Field less unusual.
For Rosario, who spent four seasons with the Mets after rising to the top of many prospect rankings, it was a return where his “dream of being a baseball player came true.” He said he wasn’t sure how the fans would greet him, but after a decent first-inning ovation, he hit a first-pitch sinker up the middle for a single.
For two Cleveland players, the trade opened doors to opportunities they never expected they would receive with the Mets. They have been the middle-infield tandem of the Guardians ever since.
“Now, I don’t understand what happened, really, in my career,” Giménez said. “But that trade was important for my development and the opportunity they gave me to establish myself as an everyday player.”
When they included Carlos Carrasco in the trade, the Guardians, with their pitching factory constantly pumping out capable starters, served as a reminder that any veteran pitcher is on borrowed time on their roster. Carrasco was no exception, despite signing a pair of team-friendly contract extensions, enduring an emotional battle with leukemia during the 2019 season and becoming a regular visitor to the pediatric cancer ward of Cleveland Clinic.
Before Friday’s game, Francona said of Carrasco: “I hope we can beat his brains out tonight, but, I love the kid and I think there are a lot of people who feel that way inside and out around Cleveland because of the kind of kid he is, what he’s done for other people, what he’s been through.”
Naylor greeted Carrasco, who still used Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” as his warmup song, with a three-run blast in the first inning.
Carlos Carrasco: ‘If I can do it, so can they’
Baseball puts a group of people in small rooms – a clubhouse, a dugout, an airplane – for eight months of the year and then, without warning, disperses the people to across the country through trades, waivers and free agency, only to be reunited, usually by throwing, for a few days every couple of years. Lindor was a member of Cleveland’s organization for a decade before the trade; Carrasco for 12 years. The Mets were all Giménez and Rosario knew.
But sometimes change is beneficial. And so is the reflection of the journey.
Guardians assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez emerged from the visitors’ dugout on Friday afternoon and scanned the field, looking for Lindor. He reminisced about Lindor’s home run in Puerto Rico in April 2018, seven months after Hurricane Maria, when most of the region was without power and, as Rodriguez recalled, “the only electricity was in the ballpark, and it was running he has all the fans.”
“Lots of good memories. They helped me grow,” said Lindor. “They helped shape me into the person I am today. There were a lot of good things that happened there, whether it was in the minor leagues or the big leagues. I was blessed to come through the Cleveland organization.”
(Top photo of Francisco Lindor: Brad Penner/USA Today)