Stellar young shortstop is face of hope in Cleveland
By Drew Casey
When the Cleveland Indians most recently won the World Series, the Cold War was in its infancy. Sixty-eight years ago, in 1948, the Tribe took down the Boston Braves for the second title in franchise history. Since then, though -- despite a trio of Fall Classic appearances -- the club has struggled to assemble a winning formula. But now, they may have the pieces -- at least one, in particular.
At 22, shortstop Francisco Lindor is the youngest player on the Indians' roster. But already, he has a season and a half of big league experience under his belt. Since making his Major League debut last June, the Puerto Rico native has slashed in the .300/.350/.450 range over more than 250 games played.
After finishing second in 2015 American League Rookie of the Year voting -- just behind fellow star shortstop Carlos Correa, who is actually a year his junior -- Lindor earned his first All-Star appearance in mid-July; the timing coincided with the Indians' franchise-record 14-game winning streak. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 Draft has also established himself as a defensive star, ranking third in the Majors in defensive WAR (2.7) through the regular season.
Inspired by the team's play, the middle infielder hopes to lead the Indians to their first World Series appearance since 1997 -- sooner rather than later. Still a relatively new face in the league, Lindor looks forward to what the rest of his Major League career holds, and discusses his affinity for the city of Cleveland and passion for playing for the Tribe.
Last season the Indians finished just one game above .500. What was different about this year?
The chemistry that we have. Everybody's playing good at the same time. Hitters are hitting when we need to hit. Pitchers are pitching when they have to pitch.
We became a team last year, with the chemistry that we built in the last two months of the season. It carried into this year. Everybody has done their job. I always believe in my team. If we can play the game the right way and put everything together day in and day out, we'll be fine.
Did the team's play down the stretch last year excite you?
We started picking it up. We were in the race. We started to get close to the Wild Card, but we just ran out of time. At that moment, I knew we had something special. It was just a matter of putting it all together.
What has Terry Francona meant to the team's success this year?
A lot. He keeps it calm. He keeps it loose in the clubhouse. He lets us do whatever we want as long as we respect each other, respect the game, play the game hard, and compete day in and day out.
Tell us about your experience in San Diego. How was your first All-Star Game?
It was cool. It was quick, though. It was awesome just to be out there, to be part of the best event during the summer. I loved it, and I thank my teammates and coaches -- everybody that chipped in to my success -- for everything that they have done.
As a kid, did you look up to any shortstops in particular?
I looked up to a lot of different shortstops. I liked [Omar] Vizquel, [Barry] Larkin, [Derek] Jeter, [Jose] Reyes and [Ronny] Cedeno. I tried to pick something from every one of them and make it my own, because that's what my dad and my brother always taught me.
June 19 was a big day for Cleveland: the Indians won in walk-off fashion in the afternoon before the Cavaliers won Game 7 of the NBA Finals in Oakland. What was that like, given that the city hadn't experienced a championship in 52 years?
It's something special. The city deserved a championship. The Cavaliers gave it to them, and it's just a matter of us continuing to do what we're capable of doing. If it's meant for us to win a championship, we're going to win a championship. If it's not meant for us, we're not going to win it. Whatever happens, happens.
The city waited for so long that they were so hungry for a championship. I was happy for Cleveland. And I had a chance to witness history.
Has the team used the Cavs' championship as motivation? You were tied for first place in the AL Central on June 15, but since then you haven't relinquished the lead.
No. That was our goal since day one: winning. It doesn't really matter what other people are doing. It just so happened the Cavaliers won this year. I'm happy for the city, though.
The team was home when the Cavs won and during the championship parade. Was there an added energy around progressive field for those games?
Yes. All you want to feed off is positive energy, and it's been great. A lot of people were going to the games. It was cool. I loved that the fans are coming out and supporting us. I thank them, because that's what we play for: We play for the fans, and we play to win. The city is alive. It's always fun whenever I go outside and see a bunch of people.
Individually, in what aspect of your game have you grown the most this season?
I'll say mindset. My mindset is a little different. My teammates have helped me to stay consistent. I need to continue to get better on my mental side of the game. I need to continue to get better on defense, offense, baserunning -- everything. But I think my mind is the thing that has improved the most this year.
Young players like yourself are really driving the game right now. What does it mean to you to be part of baseball's youth movement?
It's an honor and a blessing just to be part of something special. I'm all about helping my team win and helping us to get better. They're helping me to get better, and I appreciate everything they have done for me. I wouldn't be here without them.
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Drew Casey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.