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Lindor's boundless joy a perfect fit in Queens

January 7, 2021

So here is my favorite Francisco Lindor moment. It was 2016 -- you know, four thousand years ago -- and Cleveland was playing the Rays at Tropicana Field. Desmond Jennings (in what would be his last season in the Majors, as it turned out) hit a popup in foul territory

So here is my favorite Francisco Lindor moment.

It was 2016 -- you know, four thousand years ago -- and Cleveland was playing the Rays at Tropicana Field. Desmond Jennings (in what would be his last season in the Majors, as it turned out) hit a popup in foul territory beyond third base, and Lindor ran under it. And then … the ball disappeared.

It had, as tends to happen at the Trop, gotten stuck on one of the catwalks and never came down. This is a bewildering situation for a baseball player; typically speaking, balls that are hit in the air eventually land. So Lindor, who realized how weird he looked trying to catch a ball that wasn’t coming down, decided to have some fun with it.

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That is one of those moments that makes baseball wonderful, isn’t it? Not only is it strange and bizarre in a way that only baseball is, it features a star player who clearly, unquestionably loves the job of playing professional baseball. He’s silly, he’s light, he’s goofy and he’s smiling like a hyena. You watch that, and you think: Man, baseball is pretty great.

I thought of that moment first when I learned the stunning news that Cleveland had traded Lindor, along with Carlos Carrasco, to the New York Mets, for a package of top prospects and Major Leaguers. Francisco Lindor was incredibly popular in Cleveland, as anyone with his talent and his charisma would have to be.

But they’re going to love him in Queens.

In many ways, Lindor is the perfect face of a new era for the Mets. He’s an incredible player -- he had a down 2020, but honestly, look around … who didn’t? -- and he plays the game with exuberance and obvious zeal. You can build around him on the field, as the Mets are surely going to do before he hits free agency, but you can build around him as an organization as well. He’ll be on the cover of all your team publications, you can sell thousands of jerseys with his name on the back, you can instantly brand your entire franchise with his smiling face. He’s the sort of star and personality that immediately delineates eras of the Mets: There is the time before Lindor, and the time after.

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This team has many established stars, from Jacob deGrom to Pete Alonso to even Michael Conforto. But none of them is Lindor. Lindor doesn’t just make your team better, he makes you want to run out on a field and take grounders yourself, steal a base and slash a liner into the gap. He makes you want to go watch a ballgame.

This is not meant to be an offense to deGrom, Alonso or Conforto, all of whom had better seasons than Lindor did in 2020. They are fun to watch on their own, as guys who win multiple Cy Youngs and occasionally hit 53 homers tend to be. But they are not electrifying the way that Lindor is. They do not own the diamond, gliding across it the way that Lindor does. They do not capture the imagination of one of the best cities on the planet the way Lindor can, and the proof is that none of them have done that so far, even though they are all great baseball players. Lindor lights up a stadium just by walking into it.

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And Mets fans are desperate for that. They’ll even force it if they have to. Matt Harvey had two good seasons and one great one from 2012-15, but despite not being particularly charismatic (and actually being pretty terrible in interviews; remember that bizarre Dan Patrick interview?), Mets fans made him into a superhero, The Dark Knight. They even dressed up the way they profoundly wanted him to be every time he pitched. (Harvey had an 11.57 ERA in Kansas City last year and may now be out of baseball.) The myth of Harvey was so intense that he kept himself in a World Series game out of sheer will … and may have actually cost his team that game in the process. If you make a hero out of Matt freaking Harvey, you are maybe a little bit too thirsty for a hero.

But Lindor checks all the boxes. He’s a blast to watch, he’s a fantastic player and he loves being in the spotlight. There has been some talk that Trevor Bauer -- who seems like less of a fit now that Carrasco, an underrated part of this transaction, is a Met -- would be a great fit for the Mets, but he seems like more of a “constant presence on the back page of a tabloid” type of Met. And Mets fans have seen enough of those. Lindor is the sort of player who inspires. He reminds you of why you started loving the game in the first place. And perhaps no fanbase needs that reminder, after what they’ve been through for the past 20-plus years, more than the Mets’.

Mets fans have been hopeful for a resurgence ever since new owner Steve Cohen was approved as the man in charge and began to talk about championships and making the fanbase proud. You can forgive anyone who was wary; Mets fans have been burned many, many times before. But this is as perfect a fit as any Mets fan could have possibly imagined. Francisco Lindor is nothing but pure baseball joy. And now, Mets fans, he’s yours.