It was during a game at Fenway Park, on an August night in 2017, when Gary DiSarcina felt the full effect of what it was to share a stadium with Francisco Lindor.
Four years later, DiSarcina got to share a dugout with Lindor as the Mets’ third base and infield coach. On that night in 2017, though, he was the Red Sox’s bench coach in a game against the Indians. Lindor made a few nice plays in the field, singled and stole a base, and then hit a game-tying home run over the Green Monster in the ninth inning off Craig Kimbrel.
“He was smiling the entire time and he was trying to kick our ass,” DiSarcina told The Post.
Beginning Thursday on Opening Day in Washington, nearly three months after Lindor came to Queens in a potential franchise-changing trade, the Mets will be on the right side of the smiling, ass-kicking shortstop with flair, an infectious personality and a captivating presence. It resonates with his curly blue hair and colorful gloves, but also in the unbridled passion with which he plays the game.
When the Mets acquired Lindor, they got the four-time All-Star with a career .285 batting average and .833 OPS — the two-time Gold Glove shortstop who eats up ground balls in seemingly effortless fashion. But they also landed the 27-year-old otherwise known as “Mr. Smile,” the one who can light up a clubhouse or stadium just by entering it. Perhaps even a city, too, as he chases his ultimate goal of winning a World Series.
“They say smiles are very contagious,” Lindor, who agreed to a franchise-altering 10-year, $341 million extension late Wednesday night, said in his first press conference as a Met.
“So I’m going to bring Francisco Lindor, which is me — I’m going to do me on a daily basis. Hopefully that’s good enough for my teammates and the fans.
“Why not smile? I’m living my dream. I’m living the life I always wanted, so I don’t see why I wouldn’t smile.”
The rigors and business of the game can often take a toll on players, even the best of them. Lindor is an exception, his joy for the game still very much intact as he enters his seventh season in the big leagues.
“How he approaches the game is what you feel like an 8-year-old kid is when he’s playing Little League, except he’s a grown man playing [Major League Baseball],” said Judy Boyd, the senior vice president of production at Fox Sports, which has miked up Lindor at multiple All-Star games.
The smile has been part of the package since well before Lindor arrived to The Show.
When the native of Caguas, Puerto Rico, came to Florida and enrolled at Montverde Academy, near Orlando, as an eighth grader, he did not speak much English. But he was fluent in two universal languages: smiling and baseball.
“The longer he was here and he developed his language skills and really became a student, the smile always hung around,” said Dr. Kasey Kesselring, the headmaster at Montverde. “When you see the smile — and the perception of the smile is kind and warm — that’s exactly what it is. It’s not a veneer.”
Lindor broke into the majors with the Indians in 2015 with plenty of hype, and he quickly lived up to the publicity. He hit the big stage in 2016 as the Indians went to the World Series, with Lindor’s star rising as more fans laid eyes on his game and the enthusiasm that overflowed from it.
The Indians ultimately lost to the Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series, but getting there and not winning the championship did not permanently wipe the smile from Lindor’s face. It did, however, fuel his inner flame.
“When we acquired him, people from Cleveland said this kid, ever since Day 1, has only cared about winning the World Series,” Mets acting general manager Zack Scott told The Post. “Obviously he got close there, so that probably only makes it more of a goal that he wants to achieve. That’s so clear in everything he does. Everything is intentional and with purpose. It’s all towards that goal.”
The Mets got a glimpse of that right away in spring training. Lindor was a regular participant in early work, and when he wasn’t taking grounders himself or working on double-play intricacies, he was pausing drills to offer advice for his teammates.
They saw the style, too. That included one morning when Lindor arrived at Clover Park wearing a replica of the Mets jacket that Eddie Murphy wore in “Coming to America,” a video of which quickly went viral on social media.
But the Mets also began to learn more about the person behind all the talent and flair, which came naturally as Lindor made a point to connect with his new teammates, coaches and staff.
“It doesn’t happen a lot when you see an elite player be a good person,” DiSarcina said. “It’s one thing to have talent and you work hard. It’s another thing to reach people from all walks of life with their personality. When he walks in a room, he makes you feel like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Francisco Lindor.’ Yeah, that’s great, but he’s so humble and he sits down and he’s just an average Joe.”
In that way, Lindor reminds DiSarcina of Mike Trout, whom he was previously around as an Angels coach. In other ways — his balance of work and fun, and how players, even opponents, gravitated toward him — Lindor reminds Scott of David Ortiz.
“He had that magnetic personality,” said Scott, who spent 17 years in the Red Sox’s front office. “I remember sometimes in [batting practice], you’d see David holding court with the other team and they’re just hanging on every word coming out of his mouth. So I think that’s probably the closest [comparison].”
Like Ortiz was and Trout still is, Lindor is a face of baseball that could only become bigger as he brings his talent, energy and swagger to New York for years to come now.
For a sport that has talked plenty about trying to grow the game in recent years, a player like Lindor — a young, bilingual, charismatic star — would seem to be an ideal candidate to help lead the charge. He may have a say in the game’s direction, too, after being elected to the MLB Players Association’s executive subcommittee in December.
“He should be in the fore, far more than he already is, as a magnet for those who are aspiring to play as well as fans who enjoy our game,” Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA, told The Post. “He is that guy. It’s just not a surprise. It is who he is. I hope that, as the commitment to market players improves, that we see more of it.”
Lindor has always worn his passion on his sleeve, but now he’s wearing it on his feet, too.
Recently, he became the first New Balance baseball client to have his own signature shoe and apparel collection. Lindor was an active voice in the design process of the Lindor 1, joining Trout (Nike) and Bryce Harper (Under Armour) as the only active players to have their own name-branded, signature shoe line.
His larger-than-life personality and flair for the game played a key role in establishing that partnership.
“We’re not a brand that hands out signature collections, signature shoes left and right,” said Pat Cassidy, New Balance’s global director for consumer brand marketing and athlete activation. “But if there was anybody on our roster who was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the type of athlete who would have this type of signature collection,’ Lindor has more than earned that over and over again over the past several years.”
The cleats, which include his personal mantras of “Stay Positive” and “Be Consistent” on the tongues, are adorned with a floral pattern inspired by the Flor de Maga, the official flower of his native Puerto Rico, which he also has tattooed on his arm. For the turf shoes, Lindor asked for and got a tie-dye design, putting his colorful style on full display.
“That is Francisco in a nutshell,” said Matt Nuzzo, a product manager of New Balance Baseball who worked directly with Lindor on the signature collection. “I hope he has a really long, long career, because if he wanted my job, he could have it probably at any moment.”
For now, Lindor will stick to his day job of crushing baseballs, stealing hits away from opponents and playing the game with the exuberance of a kid while he’s at it.
“That’s who he is. It’s not contrived or forced,” Clark said. “That’s why that consistency and him bringing his lunch box every day to the ballpark, in the fashion that he does, lends itself to the respect he has among those that he plays with as well as those that he plays against.”
Now with a contract that will likely keep him in Queens for over a decade, he already has Mets fans dreaming about what’s possible.
That comes easy with a player like Lindor: all flash, all substance. He backs up his flair with hard work, his giant personality with humility, his joy for the game with a dogged determination to be the last one standing in October.
“Playing with style and excitement, that’s great for the game,” Scott said. “It’s fun to be around. But he’s also putting in all the hard work. You can’t have one without the other if we’re going to get to where we want to be.”