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Francisco Lindor returns to Cleveland for 1st time since Mets trade: ‘This was my home’

CLEVELAND — A specific memory returned to Francisco Lindor as he walked outside the visitor’s clubhouse at Progressive Field on Monday afternoon. The shortstop isn’t used to being on that side of the facility, but he remembered being there on November 2, 2016, watching the members of the Chicago Cubs celebrate a World Series in the bowels of the stadium.

Of the many memories Lindor has of playing in Cleveland, he still thinks about the World Series loss often.

“A lot,” Lindor said. “I still think about it a lot. But that’s just part of the journey.”

Lindor is on a different journey now.

He was once the franchise face of the Cleveland Indians. Now, he’s back in Cleveland with a new name on his jersey. The other team has a new name too — the Guardians — that was adopted a year after Lindor was traded to the Mets. It’s almost like everyone got a fresh start after a momentous trade.

Until Monday, when the Mets started a three-game series against the Guardians, Lindor hadn’t returned to the city where he played the first six years of his big league career.

The January 2021 trade that sent him and right-hander Carlos Carrasco to the Mets in exchange for infielders Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez was franchise-altering for both teams. Lindor became the cornerstone of a new organization after signing a 10-year, $341 million contract shortly after the trade and his old team, seeing that the championship window had closed, underwent a rebuild.

Lindor’s signing marked a new era for the Mets, though not one that has always been successful. The Mets have reached the postseason only once in the Steve Cohen era, losing in an NL Wild Card series to the San Diego Padres in 2022.

Currently, Lindor is playing well below his standards. He has a .628 OPS and an 84 OPS+. Coming into the series, he’s hitting just .197.

He’s struggled so much this season that Cohen encouraged fans to show more support for him in hopes of a turnaround. Lindor is not happy with how he started the season, but it’s less about individual stats and more about the team as a whole – he doesn’t want to let them down.

“I’m not a numbers guy, so I just stay focused on winning and trying to find ways to win,” he said. “The numbers will be there at the end of the year and it just happens to be that I don’t have a big sample size right now, so everything looks bigger than what it is. I feel like I’ve had great at-bats the last week and a half. The results are not coming through but the process is great.”

Even when he’s slumping, Lindor still makes an impact. An important part of the team’s leadership group, Cohen has relied on him to help build a winning culture. The owner often consults Lindor, Brandon Nimmo and Pete Alonso on key personnel decisions.

A middle infielder is like a field general at times and Lindor having a leader in such an active, involved position on the field makes a difference. He mentors young players, he’s often tasked with calming down pitchers in big moments and his teammates know that no matter what, they can count on him to show up every day and do everything in his power to help the team win.

Lindor missed only one game in 2022 and two in 2023. He didn’t even take off a night for the birth of his daughter. His value to the Mets can’t be measured by OPS alone.

“The one thing I think of when I think of Francisco Lindor is how he posts up,” Alonso told the Daily News. “When I think of Francisco Lindor, I think available, durable. For a guy who is one of the cornerstones of the team, that’s absolutely huge. It means a lot and I respect the hell out of it.”

He first broke into the big leagues in 2015 at 21. Now 30, he’s a father of two daughters playing his 10th big league season. Mike Sarbaugh, the Mets infield coach who spent a decade in Cleveland, said he sees a more mature player in New York. One that has learned to handle a harsher spotlight, more pressure and vocal critics.

After all, he was never booed in Cleveland.

“I’ve always had that pressure,” Lindor said. “I love that pressure. There’s not a day that goes by that I wake up and say, ‘You know what? Today, I just want to be a bad baseball player.’ That’s never gone through my head. You have ups and downs. You have good moments, you have bad moments. It’s part of the journey and you’ve got to understand that you have to embrace it and you’ve got to stay the course.”

After more than three years, Lindor is finally back at The Jake in a full-circle moment. A lot has changed, but the city still feels the same.

“I missed it,” he said. “This was my home.”


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