GURABO, Puerto Rico -- A group of boys stood near the entrance to Escuela Villa Marina in anticipation of Francisco Lindor's appearance on Monday morning. When a crowd began to form outside the school's brown metal gate, they craned their necks to see if the Indians star was actually here.One
GURABO, Puerto Rico -- A group of boys stood near the entrance to Escuela Villa Marina in anticipation of Francisco Lindor's appearance on Monday morning. When a crowd began to form outside the school's brown metal gate, they craned their necks to see if the Indians star was actually here.
One of the boys jumped repeatedly, caught a glimpse of Lindor, then turned around and flashed a thumbs up to a group of girls leaning over a teal blue second-floor balcony. The pride of their elementary school -- where Lindor attended in his youth -- had arrived. High-pitched screams of joy soon filled the courtyard and were quickly replaced by chants of "Lindor! Lindor! Lindor!"
The boys who had bounced around moments earlier now stood still, starstruck in Lindor's presence. A few boys in the courtyard carried baseballs with them as they trailed behind the shortstop. Lindor shook their hands and offered fist bumps. As he walked toward the baseball field where his big league dreams began, Lindor looked up, smiled and waved to the group that refused to stop chanting.
In the distance, a few tattered Puerto Rican flags blew in the morning's steady wind. Many trees surrounding the school remained bent and twisted in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in September. A handful of neighboring buildings still had blue tarps covering rooftops. Sections of the school's roof also suffered cracks and leaks. The canopy of the basketball court was damaged. Chips of paint are constant on the walls of the cement baseball stands and the classrooms.
Inti Santiago, the school's principal, became emotional when talking about the damage. He noted that 18 families who had students at Escuela Villa Marina were displaced by Hurricane Maria. His school was fortunate. There are plenty of others that were destroyed and shuttered.
Lindor's visit not only injected a heavy dose of joy for people affected by the hurricane, but it gave them a walking, breathing success story. The Indians shortstop used to play in that same courtyard, throwing baseballs against the cement walls. Miriam Fernandez Rosa -- the school's secretary for the past 26 years -- flashed a smile and laughed when asked if she remembered little "Paquito."
"He was really active," she said through an interpreter. "He was always running around this courtyard. This was his playground."
Lindor joked that he was covered in dirt and sweat before it was even lunchtime.
"That was me," said Lindor, motioning to the kids running around his old baseball field. "I was just like them, crazy and running around and wild."
With the Indians in Puerto Rico this week for a two-game series against the Twins on Tuesday and Wednesday, Lindor wanted to take advantage of a rare trip back to his hometown. His trip to his former school, which has more than 250 children from kindergarten through fifth grade, was a part of the "Players Going Home" program that is a part of the Youth Development Foundation.
:: Puerto Rico Series coverage ::
Lindor spent a few hours touring his old school, walking through his former classrooms and visiting with the kids who look up to the shortstop as "nuestro orgullo" -- our pride. Each class was recently given baseball-themed assignments ahead of Lindor's visit. The outer walls of the buildings were covered with projects and drawings related to Lindor's youth and rise to Major League stardom.
Lindor left Puerto Rico with his father when he was 12 years old, attended Monteverde Academy in Florida -- where his old high-school team plays on Francisco Lindor Field -- and was a first-round pick by Cleveland in the 2011 Draft. He reached the big leagues by 2015 and has since jettisoned to stardom. Lindor, a two-time American League All-Star, has won an AL Gold Glove Award, the Rawlings Platinum Glove Award, an AL Silver Slugger Award, has played in a World Series.
It started on the all-dirt infield behind the beige buildings at Escuela Villa Marina.
Maybe Lindor gave a high-five to baseball's next superstar during his visit.
"This is a real little island, but there's a lot of people with big dreams," Lindor said. "There's a lot of people that want to accomplish big things in life."
One large yellow banner hung by the students included the title, "Lindor 100% Energia" in large red letters. Indians fans are familiar with Lindor's high level of energy on the field, but he has been that way since he was a little kid in Miss Haddock's science class. Miss Haddock (her given name is Evelyn Hernandez) said Lindor, following his running around, used to pick a seat close to the window so he could cool off.
All that energy paid dividends.
"I'm extremely proud of him," Hernandez said. "They're super excited to have him here. He really serves as a motivation for these kids to maintain their discipline and persevere, and kind of reach for their goals. He's an example of that for them."
Next to the schoolyard is the baseball field where Lindor played as a child. He joked that "you better have quick feet and quick hands," or the rocks in the infield will send the baseball to your face. For the majority of his visit, Lindor went to a variety of baseball stations set up around the outfield and infield, helping out with drills for the kids. The shortstop was presented with gifts: a personalized card table, a plaque honoring his accomplishments and a portrait drawn by one of the students.
While Lindor made his way around the baseball field, Lucy de Leon looked on with a big smile from her backyard next to the school.
"He might not remember me, but I remember him," de Leon said through an interpreter. "It brings us a lot of pride for Gurabo."
At the end of his visit, Lindor and his mother, Maria, walked from classroom to classroom, examining all the artwork inspired by the shortstop. A pack of children was on their heels as they stopped to read all the words written in pencil and marker about Maria's son. He used to dream of becoming Roberto Alomar. Now, these children dream of becoming Lindor.
"We knew that he was a good player," Maria said through an interpreter. "We knew he was a good player when he was young, but just like every mom, I would just take him to the field so that he could play and kind of stay out of trouble. That's what we started with. I never thought that he would be here."
Now, Lindor hears his name chanted as part of a hero's welcome.
"It's a dream," Lindor said. "It's something that I don't take for granted. I take in every single second of it."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.