The season was 2005, otherwise known as Carlos Beltran’s first in a Mets’ uniform, but Shea Stadium didn’t immediately feel like home.
It was that unfamiliar sound. Boos coming from his own fans. Directed at the new $119-million centerfielder.
At first, Beltran was stunned. By the game’s end, however, that initial shock morphed into defiance when reporters approached him afterward.
"If they want to continue to boo, they can do it," Beltran said that August. "I’ll be here for seven years."
The reference of course was to the length of his contract, and the prideful Beltran -- who battled numerous leg injuries during that debut season -- wasn’t in the mood for extending an olive branch to the dissatisfied Shea customers.
Fast forward to Tuesday night, nearly two decades later, and life hasn’t changed much for a highly-paid, low-producing Met in Flushing, except those hostile confines are now called Citi Field.
This time it was Franciso Lindor, fresh off his $341-million contract extension, getting the Beltran treatment, after he failed to reach the outfield grass in four at-bats: three ground-ball outs, and a meek infield single that was the result of Red Sox starter Garrett Richards’ clumsy attempt at a throw.
As Lindor peeled away from first base in the eighth inning, boos rained down, just as noticeable from a pandemic-reduced crowd of 7,917 as one five times that size. But unlike Beltran, who only had 10 minutes to simmer before facing the media, Lindor got a chance to sleep on the unnerving circumstances before speaking with reporters Wednesday afternoon.
That can be useful. And Lindor didn’t issue any Beltran-style challenges about being here for 11 years. He took a somewhat more diplomatic approach.
"It’s interesting and it’s funny and it sucks," Lindor said. "It doesn’t feel right for sure. Interesting because it’s the first time that’s happened in my career, and funny because I’m getting booed and people think I’m going to go home and just think, ‘Oh, wow, I’m getting booed.’
"I get it. They’re booing because there’s no results. That’s it. They expect results. I expect results. And I get it -- it’s part of the job. I just hope they cheer and jump on the field when I start hitting home runs. And start helping the team on a daily basis a lot more than I’m doing right now."
Lindor, as he always does, answered through smiles and mixed in the occasional laugh. Not making light of the situation, but more to ease the tension of what he believes to be a temporary, fleeing matter. But Lindor surely understands the responsibility attached to a $341-million contract, and hitting .212 with a .593 OPS and three RBIs, as he was heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Red Sox, is falling well short of that, even if the season was only 18 games old.
Whether deserved or not, what the Citi fans did Tuesday was their way of putting Lindor on notice. Unconditional love is tough to come by in Flushing -- and it’s earned, not just given to anyone who slips on a Mets’ uniform, regardless of reputation or paycheck.
You can debate the merits of what feels like to outsiders as an unreasonable Flushing policy, but that’s akin to arguing over why the sky is blue. These things just are. If you play for the Mets, at one time or another, you will get booed. But the antidote is a simple one: keep the fans cheering instead. And Lindor did try to make peace with them when asked about a message preaching patience.
"You guys are fun," Lindor said. "Thank you for coming out every day and supporting the team. I’ll give you guys the results, and to me that result is winning. That’s all I want. I didn’t come to New York to hit .350 and win MVP. I came here to win and I’m going to do whatever it takes to win."
But those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, Francisco. The odds of the Mets making a long playoff run improve considerably if Lindor is on an MVP trajectory. And new owner Steve Cohen didn’t cut a check that big for a defensive specialist. That’s a contract fit for a multiple-MVP contender, which is what the Mets thought they traded for in Lindor.
He hasn’t played that part so far. It’s early, of course, and Lindor said before Wednesday’s game that he doesn’t believe he’s in a slump (we’d disagree). At least Lindor realizes now he wasn’t traded to St. Louis. I was at Busch Stadium with the Mets in 2004 when Larry Walker got a standing ovation in his Cardinals debut -- for striking out.
"Wherever I’m at right now, I can’t sit here and complain," Lindor said. "They want results and they’re frustrated."
Beltran eventually won over Mets’ fans, aside from that one fateful strike he watched in 2006. Lindor still has some work to do.