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Baseball isn’t baseball without Francisco Lindor

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The Tribe’s All-Star shortstop isn’t about to stop enjoying the game he loves

Baltimore Orioles v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Francisco Lindor returned to Cleveland yesterday.

For now, it’s just an evaluation while the teams starts their weekend series against the Atlanta Braves. It was unlikely that we would see him smiling around the bases last night, but the rain made sure that never happened. Instead, all eyes turn to today’s doubleheader as potentially the first time Lindor will make an appearance in the majors in 2019. If not, he might make his debut under the bright lights — and dryer conditions — of Sunday Night Baseball.

If you follow the minors, or literally anyone connected to the Indians, you’ve probably already seen Lindor homer twice and almost hit for the cycle. There’s a limp to his home run jog, but I’ll be optimistic and say that he has a splint or something similar on his ankle as an extra precaution in these meaningless Triple-A games. By all accounts, though, his bat already looks ready.

But what about his mind?

Francisco Lindor turned to the Player’s Tribute for a story about his literal dream come true to play baseball, playing in Puerto Rico, and his rapidly approaching return to the Major League Baseball. Through it all, one thing has never changed:

I’m someone who loves to have fun on the field — to laugh and smile and shout and give high fives and allow my emotions to come through. That’s who I am. It’s where I’m from. And I am proud of that.

Lindor’s Tribune post dives deep into his mindset on his way back from injury, and especially how playing in the major league is quite literally a dream come true; a fulfillment of something that he’s thought of and seen in his sleep since he was young.

It’s that dedication, that childlike excitement, that makes Lindor so impactful on and off the field. He drives his teammates with, as he describes, “ ... I clap my hands and yell ‘Come on! Let’s go!’”. But he also does it just by being as great as he is.

Since his debut in 2015, Lindor has amassed 22.8 WAR for the Indians, a .288/.350/.487 slash, cemented himself as one of the best (if not the best) defensive shortstop in baseball, and led them to an American League pennant. All with a smile on his face, and endless class even in his darkest moments. From the get-go it was clear he was a franchise player, someone Indians fans would be able to cling to while they shoot for their first World Series since 1948.

Remember when he was so excited after his first hit that he fell rounding first and had a smile the whole way down? Or that time he homered in front of his home crowd in Puerto Rico? Or when he hit a grand slam that made Rangers fans cry? What about when he defended his teammates when they were being booed? How about when he had to act as a mediator between a frustrated Yandy Diaz and his manager? There are so many little things as much there are massive home runs that Lindor contributes to baseball. The game just isn’t the same without him.

His stint on the injured list to start the 2019 season is the only time Indians have fans have been Lindor-less for an extend period of time — he’s played in 475 of the Indians’ 486 games in the last three years. He’s been a workhorse and healthy as can be, until a freak strain in his calf showed up in spring training, and an even freakier accident occurred while he was caught in a rundown, resulting in a sprained ankle.

We’ve been left to watch baseball and pretend it’s still the same without Lindor at short. Sure, Carlos Santana returning and hitting the cover off the ball is great, but is it nearly the same? I submit no, it’s not even close. It’s not even the fault of Eric Stamets, Max Moroff, or whatever poor soul they’ve put at shortstop to pretend to be Lindor. There just isn’t anyone that matches the electricity and fun he injects into a lineup; into the game of baseball itself.

The charisma and excitement that Lindor brings baseball goes beyond hitting baseball, and it’s something the sport desperately needs.

I also didn’t realize how much I missed that swing of his until he started belting home runs in Louisville. The controlled chaos of his swing is incredible. It’s so smooth, yet it always looks like he’s on the verge of losing grip and giving someone in the stands an unexpected souvenir. There’s just so much energy in every single thing he does.

Lindor’s absence is especially glaring in light of Major League Baseball’s “Let the Kids Play” campaign. It’s no coincidence he was one of the focal points of the initial commercial — there’s no bigger kid out there playing the game of baseball than Francisco Lindor. MLB may have already violated the spirit of that campaign by suspending Tim Anderson after he flipped a bat, got excited, and was later thrown at. But you can bet they’ll be busting out their promoted hashtag every time Lindor cranks another dinger.

Paul Dolan spoiled the idea of enjoying Lindor while the Indians have him with this preseason comments, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong. Whether the Indians find a way to sign him long-term and he plays his entire career in Cleveland, or he’s gone in a year, Francisco Lindor isn’t going to be around forever. The first month of the baseball season we’ve had without him will eventually be everyday again. Until then, keep smiling on.