As the Mets set up Monday for batting practice, Francisco Lindor instead went to the mound and began firing pitches to the plate, looking back at the scoreboard to see where they registered.
The first few fastballs climbed through the 70s until Lindor maxed out at 80.2 mph, much to the amusement of a giggling Jacob deGrom standing behind him. Next, Lindor took his swings, did a few face-to-face media interviews for really the first time as a Met and later signed some autographs near the on-deck circle after one kid in a No. 12 jersey shouted that it was his birthday.
You could say Lindor finally looked at home, that Citi Field was a comfortable place for him. There was a real lightness to Lindor that he previously had struggled to maintain during his first six-plus weeks as a $341-million shortstop, when the booing he heard at Citi was more difficult to ignore than he let on.
Now that Flushing has eased up on Lindor, and the Citi crowd raucously cheered him after Saturday’s two-run homer in the 4-1 victory over the Padres, he admits there is a tangible boost to his psyche, one that really can make an impact on day-to-day performance.
"I felt at home the first day of the season," Lindor told Newsday before Monday’s game against the Cubs, "and then I didn’t feel at home again until this homestand. I was getting booed at my place. It felt like I was on the road. It sucks. I wanted to tell the fans, help us win, don’t help us lose.
"Now it feels great. This crowd is electric. New York City is a great place. And I love it. I’m having a blast. It sucked getting booed, and probably won’t be the last time I get booed. I might get booed tonight, who knows? But the fans are a big part of our success. I truly believe that ... It feels really good now to come home."
If Lindor stays on this current upswing, he won’t be feeling anything but love at Citi. Entering Monday, the shortstop was hitting .327 (18-for-55) over his previous 14 games with 14 runs, four doubles, a triple, three homers, six RBIs and a .983 OPS. Despite all that, Lindor has only managed to bump himself up to .220 overall with a .667 OPS — well below his career marks of .281 and .823, respectively.
Digging out of a substantial hole doesn’t happen overnight in baseball. Not when you wind up as deep as Lindor, who was hitting .182 as recently as May 27. But now he’s been on a steady climb, hurdling the Mendoza Line on June 2 (.209) and starting to look like those early plate terrors are behind him.
Technically speaking, manager Luis Rojas believes that Lindor is "beginning to trust his power" and not trying to pull the ball exclusively, as illustrated by Saturday’s homer into the centerfield bleachers. Proving to himself that he can once again drive the ball to the gaps, and building on that approach. While Rojas agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that Lindor seems more relaxed at the plate, Lindor himself had trouble pinning it on something specific.
"I’m definitely feeling more ... positive is a big word, I don’t know how to describe it," Lindor said. "Maybe more confidence? I’ve always been very confident, but not having success could affect that. And right now, I feel good. But even when I was hitting .150, it doesn’t really matter. What I like is that we’re winning. I’m helping the team win every day, and every time you can help somebody win, it gives you a bigger smile."
Citi Field tends to be more forgiving during those times, too. But Lindor doesn’t need to be shielded by the others in the lineup anymore. Not when his bat is catching up to his stellar glovework.
"He feels the support from the fans right now," Rojas said. "It’s such a great energy that the guys feel and I can’t imagine what he’s feeling since they’ve been cheering for him. As much as he always made humor out of it, in a professional way, that’s what you don’t want to hear."
Rojas sees Lindor as the type of player that can be "elevated" by Citi’s charged atmosphere — it’s just taken a while for him to get the vibe right. A lot longer than anyone would have predicted. And maybe with a greater impact than we could have suspected. But now that Citi Field truly is home to Lindor, in every sense, the otherwise restless fan base is going to be much more at ease, too.