NEW YORK -- The state of a team can often be appraised at a team’s home opener. As players toe the line to receive individual introductions from the PA announcer, fans cheer louder or softer based on their emotions. Sometimes, the crowd stands. Sometimes, it jeers. Queens has long been known for this sort of behavior; in this borough, booing the head athletic trainer was once an annual rite.
So it was worth noting on Friday that one of the warmest receptions at Citi Field went to Francisco Lindor. The shortstop had endured plenty of boos last season after signing a $341 million contract and generating the wrong types of headlines throughout the summer. Fans were nonetheless eager to offer him absolution.
When they did, Lindor responded immediately with one of his finest games as a Met, homering twice and driving home three runs in a 10-3 rout of the D-backs.
“It felt amazing,” Lindor said. “It felt amazing to be welcomed by one of the greatest fan bases out there. It felt great to be able to hear my home crowd cheering me on.”
Already off to an excellent start, Lindor continued it with a two-run homer in the fifth inning and a solo shot in the eighth, going-back-to-back with Starling Marte. Lindor’s final line also included a walk, a stolen base and three runs scored. He joined José Reyes and Asdrúbal Cabrera as the only Mets shortstops with three career multi-homer games.
In achieving all that, Lindor took another step toward easing the concerns of those who feared his marriage to the Mets might not be a healthy one.
“That’s what the team looks for,” Marte said. “The team wants the fans to be behind them every single day.”
It was around this time last year that Lindor heard the first strains of what became a regular chorus of boos at Citi Field. Five days into May, Lindor was batting .152. Earlier that month, he drew fire for his “rat or raccoon” fable following a clubhouse confrontation with Jeff McNeil. By mid-July, Lindor was on the injured list with a significant oblique strain. In August, he upset fans again with a thumbs-down celebration, which prompted many to heckle him only louder.
By any measure, it was not a good first impression for Lindor, who admitted recently that “life was a little faster for me” last summer. Lindor also spoke about how this year would be different, and manager Buck Showalter offered an assessment of how that might come to pass.
“Play better,” the manager said. “No place can turn the page on that better than where we play. But you control it.”
So far, Lindor has done precisely that, batting .296 with a 1.161 OPS. It took Lindor only eight games to hit his first three home runs, compared to 33 games last season.
“He’s in a good spot mentally and emotionally,” Showalter said. “You can tell he’s comfortable with the challenge of playing shortstop for the New York Mets, and not having to be everything to everybody, every day and every second.”
On Friday, Lindor was not the only redemptive story in a game that also saw Robinson Canó hit his first home run in 17 months. But Lindor is a far more integral part of this organization, considering his contract runs through 2031. Another poor start would have elicited additional disgruntlement from the fan base. Team supporters, in turn, would have continued questioning the wisdom of this commitment.
Instead, Lindor is back to being a member of the Mets in good standing. On a day that drew the ninth-largest crowd in ballpark history, with many spilling into the parking lots early in the morning for a first glimpse of the new Tom Seaver statue, fans were eager for any sort of positive vibes. As Lindor himself put it this spring, fans -- even the sometimes-caustic, always-honest variety from the five boroughs -- are generally looking for something to cheer.
When Lindor provided it, all 43,820 of them knew what to do.
“They’re waiting to embrace you,” Showalter said. “More than any place you play, it’s up to you to give them something to embrace you about. Today, our guys did.”