WASHINGTON — To the Mets, and all their anxiety-ridden fans, it was like some twisted Faustian bargain.
Sure they got a happy Francisco Lindor, distraction-free, locked up for the next 11 seasons, and extremely grateful for his $341 million contract, now the record for a shortstop and third-largest payout in MLB history.
Then, roughly 12 hours later, the Mets had no Opening Night, as the season’s first game was postponed due to the Nationals’ COVID-19 concerns, including multiple positives.
“Excitement … right down the drain,” Marcus Stroman tweeted around noon Thursday.
Yup. That about covered it.
Cruel and unusual doesn’t begin to describe manager Luis Rojas receiving a phone call from GM Zack Scott around 11 a.m. Thursday telling him the 7:09 p.m. game at Nats Park was off. The Mets had waited five months to play baseball again, upgraded the roster, made it through another COVID-restricted spring themselves and wrote a gigantic check to Lindor — just in time to enjoy this very moment.
Not to mention the team’s fans, who spent the past week agonizing over whether they should fully embrace Lindor or boo him at next week’s Citi Field opener, depending on the outcome of his negotiations. Of course, once it felt safe to hug Lindor, knowing he’d be in Flushing long-term, their reward was not seeing the Mets play until Saturday, at the earliest.
“Man, I was bummed,” Lindor said Thursday during his Zoom presser. “I was bummed out because I wanted this one, I wanted to play. I know we’re gonna have an Opening Day. I know we will. It’s just a matter of when. But it kinda sucks. I wanted to see some jets fly over me today. I wanted to see some flags on the field. I want to see some fans, man. I was bummed out for sure.”
We went into this week thinking that Lindor’s future was the only uncertainty — not Opening Night. There existed a small percentage chance that the talks could have collapsed, though in my view, it felt very unlikely as soon as both sides made it over the $300 million mark. By then, the climate was right for a deal. All that was left was the increasing pressure of a deadline and a little more conversation, which sparked up again later Wednesday evening. Lindor recalled the final phone conversation from his agent, David Meter, who told him he hit $341 million.
“I was like, yeah man, let’s do it,” Lindor said.
Stuck in his hotel room, Lindor tried to keep the celebratory yelps to minimum volume while speaking to friends and family. Who knows what was happening in Mets-centric households throughout the tri-state region. And considering that Opening Night approaches with a holiday-level anticipation, the Lindor signing multiplied that adrenaline rush.
Right up until the next morning’s crash, anyway. When suddenly that bright future dimmed for a day or two. And perhaps longer depending on what happens with the Nationals outbreak. It was sort of incredible that baseball made it through six weeks of spring training with barely a COVID-related blip and yet the Mets’ very first game got sabotaged by the virus.
It was a brutal reminder that MLB is not out of the woods regarding COVID-19. At this time a year ago, the worldwide pandemic shut down sports entirely. The Mets knew this might be a possibility when they learned the Nationals were doing contact tracing on Wednesday. Postponements of this nature were a big part of getting through the 2020 season.
But to have this one torpedo Opening Night, and possibly beyond, was a bit extra. The season’s first game never feels like merely one of 162. And to think this was Lindor’s real debut in a Mets’ uniform made the whole thing sting that much more. You could say that 12-hour span, from 11 Wednesday night to 11 Thursday morning, was an emotional roller-coaster, but only if that roller-coaster went flying off the tracks and crash-landed in a nearby water park.
“This game teaches us that there’s just a lot of uncertainty,” Rojas said. “And at the same time, what we’ve gone through since last year, I think we’re pretty open-minded that things like that this can happen.”
The Mets will play an Opening Day. Eventually. And Lindor is going to be a part of them for the next decade. But all of that didn’t provide much consolation as the players and fans where whip-sawed back and forth in the hours leading up to the first pitch. If anyone could help soldier through, it was Mr. Smile, and that grin — enhanced by a $341-million contract — is going to stay on his face for a long time.
“The number next to me,” Lindor said, “it means those are 341 reasons for me to go out there and play the game the right way.”
Now the waiting is the hardest part.