When the outrage and despair have quite run their course, the crowd has had its say and the system can’t explain itself with anything more than a shrug, what’s left is a 27-year-old man with a game to play and a life to lead.
Francisco Lindor on Monday morning wore a blue New York Mets cap, a new accessory symbolizing a tiresome truth, that what lasts is the largest stack of cash and who wins is the guy standing closest to it. Pretty soon Lindor and the Mets will have a conversation or two about that, about his share, given he is a great baseball player and they, by appearances, would like to be a great baseball team.
Lindor and the Cleveland Indians already had that conversation. More than one. It’s why he’s a Met. There’s certainly a part of Lindor that is sad about that, though he tries not to do sad very often or for very long. Rather, on a video conference Monday morning, he smiled a lot, politely called a lot of strangers by their names, said he was excited to be coming to New York, in part for the pizza but mostly for the baseball, and reported he was available to discuss a contract extension in the coming weeks but maybe not after that. Also politely.
It must be hard to say goodbye to a place you love when you’re so busy saying hello somewhere else. Cleveland surely knows the affection he holds for it. That was evident in the way he played and the lives he invited into his. I watched one October evening a couple years back, an hour after the Indians’ season ended in Cleveland. On his way home, Lindor stopped at every usher, every security guard, every staffer. He knew their names. They drew him in for hugs. He cried with them. He’d be back in a few months and they’d try it again, and they’d have a shot as long as he was their shortstop. And now after six seasons and six goodbyes, he was wearing someone else’s hat as maybe someone else’s future.
“Oh, man, it’s really hard,” Lindor said of his final goodbye to Cleveland. “It’s really hard. Cleveland is home. Or was home. I just want to thank them. The only thing I can say is thank you. Thank you for making my life easier. Thank you for letting me go play baseball. They took care of the rest. They took care of my family. They took care of friends when they came into town. They made my job easier and I am thankful. … They helped to shape me into the man I am today. … I thank them all for letting me be Francisco Lindor.”
Maybe it’s his last goodbye for a while. The Mets seem intent on working toward a long contract extension and Lindor seems open to the possibility. He listed about a dozen Mets coaches and players he has already spoken to, along with the owner and the president. He said he was excited.
Another six years like the six he just had and Lindor will be trending toward Hall of Fame stature. He’s young and a regular All-Star with a personality as big as the apple in center field, so the sort of player and man who sticks in New York, if not, sadly, Cleveland. By Monday, days after the trade of four players for Lindor and Carlos Carrasco was announced, the conversation already was less about being a Met and more about for how long. Lindor is due for free agency after the season. Six months ago, Mookie Betts, a year older than Lindor and in a similar position, agreed to a 12-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers without having played a game in the uniform. That’d be the template.
Asked flat out if he thought he could get a contract done with the Mets, Lindor grinned.
“Well,” he said, “to all those fans out there, I live life day by day. I’m extremely happy and excited about what’s happening right now. But I haven’t really sat down and talked to anybody. … I have never been against an extension. I have never been against signing long term. … We’ll see what happens.
“We all know, everyone’s talking about how it’s comparable to Mookie. Mookie fell into a great situation. He felt comfortable with the L.A. Dodgers and he made the decision that was best for him and his family. … I continue to emphasize, I am not against a long-term contract. It has to make sense for both sides.”
A single caveat.
“I have never negotiated a contract during the season,” he said. “Never. I have always said, before spring training. But once it gets to a point in spring training, it’s time to enjoy the ride and focus on winning. And that’s the only thing I should be focusing on. Not how much money I’m going to get, how much money do I need to get, about my family. No. It’s about focusing on what I have every day, my task, and that’s winning.”
There, again, is what comes amid the outrage and despair, the system, the stacks of cash and who gets what. That is, the baseball. This time of year it gets lost, particularly in this time of this year. There are bigger conversations about that coming, and soon. But, for now, for a few minutes on the other end of a video call, there was this young man, this shortstop, and a new hat and a future that looks different than it did those few days ago.
“Why not smile?” Lindor said. “I’m living my dream. I’m living the life I always wanted. So I don’t see why I wouldn’t smile.”
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