Best friends Francisco Lindor, Gio Urshela to face off in Subway Series 

Francisco Lindor and Gio Urshela both played on the Columbus Clippers in 2014 and 2015.  Credit: Columbus Clippers/Josh Samuels

Francisco Lindor and Gio Urshela, best friends and Subway Series opponents, talk every day — almost never about baseball.

They send each other funny things on Instagram. They gawk at Lindor’s "new life," as Urshela called it, with a fiancée and a baby and a $341 million contract. They chat about bicycling, their shared offseason hobby/training method, and "Money Heist," their favorite show.

And sometimes, when Lindor’s Mets and Urshela’s Yankees happen to be home at the same time, which isn’t often, they get together at their Manhattan apartments, a 10-minute ride apart. They hang out just like they have since meeting as Cleveland minor-leaguers a decade ago, when circumstance — and adjoining hotel rooms — united a fun-loving teenager from Puerto Rico and a quiet guy from Colombia, Spanish-speaking left-side-of-the-infielders with faraway dreams of the major leagues.

"They’re almost like brothers," said Chris Tremie, their Triple-A manager in 2014-15.

Baseball brought Lindor and Urshela together. It couldn’t force them apart. What resulted was one of life’s great rewards, the kind of friendship in which an unwanted tomato becomes a go-to story, half-joking conversations about becoming neighbors start to become reality and someone else’s success feels about as good as your own.

"He’s the man," Lindor said during batting practice at Citi Field last week. "I love him."

An origin story

Lindor was 17 years old and a veteran of five professional baseball games when he showed up to Goodyear, Arizona, in the fall of 2011 for Cleveland’s instructional league, a spring training-like environment for lower-level minor-leaguers with an emphasis less on competing and more on learning. He was a can’t-miss, blue-chip super prospect from the moment he was drafted months prior.

Urshela was 20, three seasons deep and kinda, sorta, maybe a prospect. The glove was there, for sure, but the bat too often was not.

"They both looked like they were about 14 years old," said David Wallace, who climbed through the minors as a manager for Cleveland as Lindor and Urshela did so as players. "Little baby faces."

They hit it off. A twist of fate made them neighbors in the team hotel, and the door connecting their rooms meant social hour whenever they wanted. Lindor cited Urshela’s "passion for the game" and "willingness to get better every single day" among the reasons why they get along so well. Urshela, speaking a week later in the Bronx, used almost the same language: "the energy that he has" and "trying always to get better every single day."

"But most importantly his heart," Lindor said. "He wants the best for everybody. He wants people to be in a good spot in life, and I’m all about that. I’m a family guy, so I respect the hell out of that."

Wallace said they had a joy that was "infectious throughout the organization."

"When you get into pro ball, sometimes the game has a way to turn into a job," Wallace said. "And rightfully so in some aspects. But they showed up every day to play a game. The same game they did growing up. I don’t think they have lost sight of that throughout the years, and obviously all the success.

"That speaks volumes about those guys, because it’s easy to lose sight of that sometimes. Certainly some guys lose sight of it because they’re struggling. But on the other side, some guys lose sight of it when they experience a lot of success. You hate to see it whichever way it is. But those guys haven’t lost sight of the joy of the game."

They pushed each other as players, too. Urshela was one level ahead of Lindor until Lindor caught up with him at Double-A in late 2013 and Triple-A in late 2014. Through the years, in another fall instructional league and several spring trainings and finally being teammates on the Akron RubberDucks and Columbus Clippers, they developed a certain routine.

From left, Gio Urshela, Jose Ramirez, Ronny Rodriguez, Jesus Aguilar,...

From left, Gio Urshela, Jose Ramirez, Ronny Rodriguez, Jesus Aguilar, Francisco Lindor with the Akron RubberDucks Credit: Akron RubberDucks

Take batting practice, like everybody else. Do infield practice, like normal. And then ask a coach or manager — often Wallace — to absolutely let it rip. These two defensive whizzes wanted him, someone, anyone to hit grounders as hard as they feasibly could, like a next-level fielding drill to see who could make the better play.

Urshela called it "Game Time."

"There’s a lot of laughter and good banter going on, but it was not joking around," Wallace said. "It was serious in that they wanted to come out making the better play, making more plays than the other guy. The problem was that the whole field would stop and want to watch because we knew it’s just a different level."

Tremie said: "It was not just a friendship, but a professional push to make each other as good a ballplayer as they could be."

Their bond grew with their skills. During a random ride into work in early 2015, when they were still in Columbus, they daydreamed out loud about how cool it would be if they were promoted to the majors on the same day, how giddy they would be making that two-hour drive up I-71 to Cleveland together.

Just a few days later, Urshela said, his call came. It was June 9. Tremie, their manager at the time, said Urshela was "a little surprised but happy." He was going to The Show — and would beat his friend.

"I remember Lindor being almost as happy for Urshela as he was when he was called up," Tremie said. "There was nothing but joy from Frankie."

Lindor, by then a premier prospect in all of baseball, joined Urshela in the majors five days later.

Cleveland's Gio Urshela congratulates Francisco Lindor after his two-run homer at Angel...

Cleveland's Gio Urshela congratulates Francisco Lindor after his two-run homer at Angel Stadium on Sept. 20, 2017. Credit: Getty Images/Sean M. Haffey

The tomato incident

What do Lindor and Urshela know about each other that others don’t?

Lindor said Urshela isn’t actually shy, he just pretends to be so he can pick his spots. He actually is quite outgoing, and hilarious, once you get to know him. (Urshela agrees with that assessment because sometimes he isn’t sure who he can trust, but he knows he can trust Lindor.)

Urshela said Lindor really likes cars. He owns seven of them, including a Lamborghini.

Consider those the types of insights gleaned from 10 years as friends, roommates, teammates and travel companions. Each has visited the other’s hometown — Cartagena, Colombia, for Urshela; Caguas, Puerto Rico, for Lindor — and in the offseason Urshela comes for lengthy stays at Lindor’s house in the Orlando area, so they can train together.

Work hard, nap hard. But be careful.

"Never fall asleep next to him," Lindor warned. "He’s always taking pictures of me falling asleep. He’s that guy. You can’t fall asleep next to him."

Urshela, laughing, had little to say to defend himself.

"We’re always tired at the end of the day," he said. "We sit on the couch, sleeping, snoring. I take a picture or video. Later I put it somewhere."

The group chat, usually, and sometimes Instagram for an embarrassing collage on Lindor’s birthday. Such is friendship.

"Gio is a good guy," Lindor said.

A good guy who sometimes is uninterested in accoutrements. Once, at a restaurant in Arizona during spring training, the ostensibly shy Urshela got his food and did not want the tomato. So he threw it in Lindor’s direction.

"I threw it back on his plate," Lindor said. "He grabbed it and threw it back at me. And I grabbed it and frisbeed it to him. And he ducked. And it hit the guy right behind him."

The guy was the owner of the restaurant, Urshela said, and as Lindor’s fight-or-flight response engaged he wasn’t sure which path was optimal.

"Both of our faces are like, holy [expletive]! We might get into a fight in this restaurant," Lindor said. "He looked at us and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ "

Urshela added: "[Lindor] was like, ‘Oh. Oh, no. Should I laugh? Should I be serious?’ That was fun. I forgot about that."

No fight ensued. Everyone laughed it off.

"That’s one story," Lindor said, "of Gio not being shy."

Mutual success

The early portion of Lindor and Urshela’s major-league careers unfolded almost exactly as their prospect status suggested, which eventually meant parting ways — professionally.

The runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, Lindor was an All-Star in each of the next four seasons, appearing in the 2016 World Series and winning two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. He remained with Cleveland until January, when he was traded to the Mets, who signed him to the largest contract ever awarded to a shortstop. Urshela was one of the first people he called after agreeing to the deal.

Urshela, meanwhile, spent 2016 in the minors, was called up a couple of times in 2017 and was traded to the Blue Jays and then the Yankees in 2018.

That is around when the Orlando offseasons became tradition. Urshela credits the ever-positive Lindor for helping him get better and keep going. He so enjoyed those winters that he is considering buying a house nearby, the closer to Lindor’s the better.

"I’m very grateful for what he did," Urshela said. "He brought me to his home. He said, ‘You can stay here. Let’s go to work.’ With that discipline, see what happens."

It wasn’t until 2019, when Miguel Andujar got hurt, that Urshela received another real shot. He has been the Yankees’ third baseman ever since.

Gio Urshela's career stats

Avg.: .273

R: 170

2B: 74

HR: 45

RBI: 175

Fielding %: .969

(though games of June 30, 2021)

Over the past three seasons, actually, Urshela has been the better hitter than Lindor.

"The success that I have right now, he’s part of that," Urshela said.

Lindor said: "Once he got the opportunity with the Yankees, he took over. I’m super proud of him. I’m excited to see him grow and to see the fans give him the love that he deserves."

Francisco Lindor's career stats

Avg.: .280

R: 548

2B: 202

HR: 147

RBI: 437

Fielding %: .981 

(though games of June 30, 2021)

Since Urshela left Cleveland, they have played against each other occasionally, including during the postseason last year. But this time will be different. It is the Subway Series, Lindor’s Mets against Urshela’s Yankees.

Lindor, nicknamed "Mr. Smile" for obvious reasons, has a reputation for goofing around on the field with opposing players when the moment allows. He insisted, however, that this weekend he will be playing it straight, no antics (a claim to which Urshela responded with skepticism).

"We’re best friends," Lindor said, "so we kind of give the silent treatment to each other."

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