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WASHINGTON — You can see why his teammates, to a man, want to play with Francisco Lindor, want to champion him — and, in the case of Pete Alonso, want to act as something of a supplementary agent extracting a few extra piles of Steve Cohen’s cash.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mets manager Luis Rojas. “I’ve been around a lot of leaders in my career. But he’s just different.”
That has been apparent from the start. Mets players — all Mets players, stars and scrubs, sluggers and slingers — were drawn to him. So were the coaches. So was the owner, and the team president, who acquired him and hoped he would become the face of the franchise for a decade.
Now, part of that is the moth-to-a-flame vibe that terrific players project. That part isn’t unique. Stars attract attention.
Thursday afternoon, we were given a brief glimpse of what the Mets see when they see Lindor, who will be a franchise centerpiece for the next 11 years, a day after Lindor signed on for 10 years and $341 million, a few hours after the Mets’ season opener was postponed thanks to COVID issues affecting the Nationals.
“He’s just so real,” is the way Alonso described Lindor a few weeks go. “There isn’t any pretense to him. At all.”
That was apparent as Lindor made his way through his first interrogation as a generationally rich shortstop. Even in these days, as we have become inured and jaded to the price tag of elite professional athletes, those athletes often try to distance their decision from the number of zeroes on the pay stub. They make signing seem like a sacrament.
Now, Lindor had plenty of rah-rah to his message — “It’s an honor to wear the blue and orange,” he said, before thanking Cohen and his wife, Alex, for “believing in me.”
“Here we go, baby!” he said through his thousand-kilowatt smile.
But he was also more than willing to discuss the thousand-pound elephant that will lurk in every room he walks into for the foreseeable future. He wanted to get paid. It was no coincidence that he signed for $1 million more than Fernando Tatis Jr., and he made no pretense that there was.
“I wanted to yell and scream as loud as I could,” Lindor said when his agent, David Meter, called him late Wednesday night to tell him the deal was done. “But I was in a hotel room. I couldn’t.”
There was more: Lindor recognized the contract he signed was, in many ways, another link in a chain that has connected the brotherhood of baseball players ever since the owners’ gift of the reserve clause was eliminated 45 years ago.
“There were many players before me who set the path for me and that’s why I’m getting what I’m getting,” he said. Asked if he was now rooting for one of the remaining members of the shortstop free-agent class of next offseason to maybe move the bar to $342 million — Carlos Correa is the one who leaps to mind — he said, “I hope he does.”
Now, understood: this isn’t the kind of thing that’s going to galvanize fans. Lindor was in a difficult position here. If he’d entered the season without an agreement there would have been logical backlash from fans for walking away from an absurd pile of money; as it is, the absurd pile of money he agreed to will always be part of his narrative as a Met. That’s simply human nature.
He gets that part of it, too.
“Honestly, I didn’t have the fans’ [reaction] in mind,” when he entered the very public endgame of this negotiation. “I want them to embrace me and I want to embrace them.
“I wanted what was best for the organization and what was best for me.”
Now, in a perfect world, Lindor will make his salary seem irrelevant. And he knows how to do that, too.
“Win not just one championship, but multiple championships,” he said. “Make the Mets a place where everyone wants to play.”
“He’s determined to win,” Rojas said. “That’s all he talks about.”
That’s what will ultimately define his time here. And Lindor knows it, knows he will have a huge spotlight fixed on him, and welcomes it, welcomes the scrutiny that will come along with it.
“I have $341 million reasons for me to go out and keep playing the game the right way,” he said.
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