GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Just this week, Francisco Lindor has given a hitting lesson on national television, modeled for commercial shoots and magazine cover, even worn a uniform outfitted with electrical sensors as the subject of a sports science experiment.
No player has been more in demand at Cleveland’s camp.
No surprise there.
Only 23, Lindor has become a star among stars, the smiling face and young soul of the AL champion Indians. But while baseball fans have fallen head over spikes for him, and although the Indians’ young shortstop’s profile swells with every sensational, backhanded stop in the hole, Lindor has stayed grounded.
“I’m me,” he said Thursday following practice during a brief lull in his crammed schedule.
Lindor has been so coveted during spring training that the Indians’ media relations director sent him an itinerary outlining his many obligations. The email’s subject line read: “Next Week (BUSY!!)”
Actually, Lindor’s life has been a whirlwind since last fall, when he helped the Indians advance to the World Series for the first time since 1997. They lost in seven games to the Chicago Cubs and are favored to make a return trip this season.
After batting .301, leading the league with 15 sacrifice flies and winning his first Gold Glove in his first full major league season, Lindor hit .310 in the postseason, which was also the first extended look many people had at the kid known as “Frankie” to his teammates.
“Absolutely dynamic player,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I mean he’s really good now, but he’s still scratching the surface. As he continues to gain confidence and understanding of the league and what people are trying to do versus him, woof, it’s going to keep getting better.”
As Cleveland’s players went through fielding drills on a cloudless morning with the Arizona sky providing a challenging background, Lindor charged a popup and called off his teammates by screaming, “I got it! I got it!”
He’s got it, all right. In bunches.
Lindor is ultra-talented, charismatic and humble. A first-round pick in 2011, he blazed through Cleveland’s minor league system and in less than two years has established himself as one of the game’s best middle infielders. He’s already Cleveland’s most popular player, quickly moving ahead of All-Stars Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber and newly signed Edwin Encarnacion.
But don’t think any of it has gone to Lindor’s head, which currently sports a curled haircut with highlights as golden as his glove. While stardom beckons, he hasn’t changed outwardly, approaching his job with the same boyish enthusiasm he always has.
While he’s being pulled in numerous directions, Lindor is fixated on his profession.
“At the end of the day, I’ve still got a job to do and I’ve got to separate my job from the other stuff,” he said. “What I do on the field comes first because that is my job. That’s my pride. I don’t get that stuff if I don’t perform. So I just focus on the daily basis on my job and I work as hard as I can and then after that is done, then I’ll go and do whatever I’ve got to do — whether it’s for the shoes or the signings or whatever it is.”
The trappings of stardom can be intoxicating, and Indians manager Terry Francona has seen players succumb to their pull.
However, he’s not worried about Lindor falling.
“He’s a very intelligent kid,” Francona said. “I think he knows what comes first and when you do your job on the field, and you do it like Frankie is doing it, there’s probably going to be things that happen because of it. Good things. But they don’t happen unless you take care of your job on the field. Even at a young age, he’s very aware of that. I’ve never felt the need to say anything to him about that. And if I did, I would.”
One of Lindor’s offseason highlights was a trip to New York to receive a “Rising Star” award at a Sports Illustrated gala. Surrounded by some of the most well-known names in sports and entertainment, Lindor was in awe and at ease alongside LeBron James, Michael Phelps, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Peyton Manning and Jay-Z.
“I’m the little kid,” he said. “I’m looking around like, `This is crazy.’ It was just awesome.”
But he wasn’t star struck.
“I’ve never been that type of person,” Lindor said. “I’m not shy. I’ll just go up to you and say, `Hey, what’s up? My name is Francisco.'”