CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor walked through the gates of Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, looked down at the field and saw some of his country's baseball heroes. Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez was there, as were slugger Carlos Delgado and Bernie Williams. They had traded their Major League uniforms for ones with "Puerto Rico" stitched across the chest.
A 12-year-old Lindor and one of his cousins took in a handful of World Baseball Classic games during the tournament's 2006 debut. Lindor had big league dreams back then, of course, but couldn't yet ponder what it would be like to suit up for his country. More than a decade later, Lindor will get that chance as a member of Puerto Rico's 2017 World Baseball Classic roster.
"I went to a couple games," Lindor said. "It was in Puerto Rico, so it was fun just having it there and seeing Delgado and Bernie Williams and all those guys representing my country, and seeing how the whole entire country would stop just to watch that one game. It's pretty special. I'm looking forward to it. I always dreamed of representing my country."
In only a short time in the Majors, Lindor has blossomed into one of the game's young superstars. The Indians shortstop is coming off a campaign in which he was named an All-Star and earned both Gold Glove and Platinum Glove Awards for his defensive wizardry. One year earlier, Lindor was the runner-up in balloting for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, which went to Astros shortstop Carlos Correa.
Correa also grew up in Puerto Rico and plans on playing for his country in the Classic. That will present Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez with a tough decision: Will he play Lindor or Correa at shortstop? Asked if he wants to man that position for his country, Lindor flashed his famous smile.
"I'll leave that to Edwin," Lindor said with a wink.
Lindor left Puerto Rico with his father, Miguel, when he was 12 years old in order to have a better opportunity to advance his baseball career. They settled in Florida, where Lindor attended Montverde Academy, played baseball and worked hard to further his education and learn English. In 2011, the Indians selected Lindor with the eighth overall pick in the first round of the MLB Draft, giving Cleveland a future cornerstone.
Since reaching the Majors, Lindor has not only excelled on the field, but he has made an effort to give back in the community as well. Last season, the shortstop created a charitable program, Lindor Smile Squad, through the Indians to provide baseball experiences for kids and adults with disabilities. Lindor has also partnered with MLB to help speak to children in Cleveland and around the country through the R.B.I. (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.
"He's just a fantastic young man," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "I had a chance to chat with him a little bit at the Winter Meetings. I think he's going to be a tremendous asset for the Indians and the industry for a really long time."
For the upcoming World Baseball Classic, Lindor and Puerto Rico will be part of Pool 2, which also features Mexico, Venezuela and Italy. That group of teams will begin play at Estadio de Béisbol Charros de Jalisco, which is located in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico.
"They have great crowds over there," Lindor said. "I'm ready for it."
In fact, Lindor has waited for this moment since he was a kid in the stands at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
"It's an honor. It's a blessing," Lindor said. "I'm excited. I'm very excited. I can't wait. I can't wait to wear my Puerto Rican jersey. I'm proud of my country. I want to represent it everywhere I go. That's the reason I play: For Puerto Rico, for Cleveland and for my family. I'm very excited."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.