We’re less than a week away from Opening Day, sports fans. It’s shaping up to be a very Cleveland Monday in April. As of now the game-time weather is forecast to be something like 37 degrees, give or take, with a nice post-wintry mix falling from the sky. But to hell with the weather. Opening Day is Opening Day.
No other sport’s season debut can touch it. The NFL’s Week 1 comes close in terms of anticipation, but the four weeks of preseason crapola take the shine off it a good bit. It’s fun when the NBA starts up, but the first night is limited to a handful of marquee matchups. The Masters might be the closest comparison, what with the history and the pageantry and all, but golf is a singles competition. Baseball is different. The phrase Opening Day alone elicits a special reaction.
The Cleveland Indians will open the season at home this year, their first time doing so since 2012. That makes the impending opener more exciting than it has been in recent years past, but there’s another reason to get pumped for April 4: Francisco Lindor.
Lindor’s exceptional rookie campaign is by now a matter of public record. He hit .313, got on base 35 percent of the time, slugged a dozen dingers, swiped a dozen bases, and generally played at an All-Star level while fulfilling if not surpassing every reasonable expectation. He was great, and that’s without factoring in his defense. Statistically speaking, he saved runs and had great range and all that good stuff. Aesthetically speaking, he displayed a combination of sudden and smooth that brought memories of Omar Vizquel to mind. (Or at least a thin Asdrubal Cabrera.)
The numbers are impressive, but it’s how Lindor plays that truly excites. He has the Keanu Reeves Factor, which is to say that he has the ability to make people say “whoa” with a dumb look on their face. He makes plays that make the crowd react, and that matters given the Tribe’s struggles to keep casual fans like yours truly interested. With all due respect to the almighty walk, when I watch sports I want to see somebody do something spectacular. Francisco Lindor does those sorts of things.
He’s a rare, delightful mix of fun and talent. There’s a good chance that his offensive output falls back to Earth a bit this year — regression to the mean and all that — but there doesn’t seem to be any great fear that he’s going to fall on his face in his first full season. For as smiley as he is (and what a smile!), Lindor is also reported to be a driven, hardworking player. Terry Francona acknowledges that the expectations are high and that slumps will happen, but Tito’s quotes about Lindor don’t suggest significant worry.
From Jerry Crasnick for ESPN:
“I don’t think there’s a ton of concern about him,” Francona said. “We think we know what he is as a player and a person. Does that guarantee he’s going to have the best April? No, nothing does. But we know he’s a good player — and hopefully, he’s going to end up being a great player.”
At the end of the day, what’s not to like about a switch-hitter with speed, power, a gold-plated glove, intelligence and poise?
“You don’t proclaim somebody a Hall of Famer after three months in the big leagues, but I don’t want to talk him down, either,” Francona said. “We love him. I understand why people ask about him. Shoot, he’s fun to talk about.”
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for his future is the most anecdotal: he has an endorsement deal with Under Armour. Those guys in Maryland have been pretty darn good at picking their athletes lately. Steph Curry, Cam Newton, Bryce Harper, and Jordan Spieth — all among the best, most exciting talents in their respective sports — make for a hell of a foundation. Under Armour also sponsors The Rock, which is another way of saying that I’m just thrilled about the company that Francisco is keeping.
Just as encouraging as the production and the excitement and the endorsement is what appears to be Lindor’s general goodness. He seems like a good kid. He seems like the type who’s grateful for everything he’s ever had and who’s eager to pass it all on to someone else. It could well be fluff. Perhaps I’ll feel like a fool one day when ol’ Frankie’s head has gotten all puffed up with ego. But I don’t think so.
An illustrative excerpt via Ken Rosenthal for FOX Sports, from a couple weeks back:
“I got a lot of help from a lot of people,” says Lindor, who recalls that he did not know English when he arrived in the U.S., and benefited from the instruction of coaches, teachers and headmasters. “I want to help others. I want to make an impact on kids. That’s the future. And not only the future for baseball, the future for everything.
“I’m a big believer that God put people in front of you to guide you to the next door. Once you open that door, someone is there to guide you to the next door. And on and on and on.”
That, then, is Lindor’s plan — to be great both on the field and off.
I suppose we as Tribe fans would be better served pumping the brakes on the Lindor Express. The Cavs, for instance, have shown the danger of high expectations.1 I, however, am not in the business of managing expectations. I am in the business of getting carried away with them. I derive more fun from arbitrarily estimating best-case scenarios than calculating the most likely ones. Cleveland sports teams only produce so much success. I use my imagination to fill in the blanks.
So where will Francisco Lindor go in his first full season? Will he hit .300 again? Will he club 20 homers and steal 20 bases? Will he put together an all-around season on par with Grady Sizemore and Robbie Alomar? Will he win the Gold Glove? Be an All-Star? MVP???
Perhaps this is setting the bar too high. These are absurd things to ask of most any baseball player who does not have a fish for a surname. But as we creep closer to Opening Day, the mere possibility is enough. Opening Day is like New Year’s Day or the first day of school or a kid’s birthday. It’s about new beginnings. It’s about anticipation. It’s about hope. No player represents those things more than the fresh-faced 22-year-old from Puerto Rico. I have no idea what Francisco Lindor is going to do this year. I just know that I’m excited to find out.
- Also, see the section from Carlos Santana’s rookie season from the WFNY Indians preview. [↩]