CLEVELAND — Francisco Lindor's image might be plastered all over Cleveland as the face of the franchise and one of the most marketable names in baseball, an easy choice for any promotion or advertisement Major League Baseball would look to run on TV, the radio or even as an ad on a bridge.
Lindor's likeness is on the side of buses, all around the stadium and anywhere else in the city MLB could fit him in next to Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, Blake Snell and many of the other younger stars in the game.
But, as much as to anyone, this All-Star break has a great deal of meaning for Carlos Santana. He's not only making his first All-Star appearance at the age of 33, he's starting for the American League and hitting cleanup in Tuesday's All-Star Game in his home ballpark. He's also the oldest member of the Home Run Derby field.
Rewind to last November, and Santana was coming off a difficult season, his first in Philadelphia, away from the only major-league home he'd known in Cleveland. Upon being traded back to the place he calls his "sweet home," Santana has the most active presence among the Indians' All-Stars as recognition for a first half in which he's at times carried the Indians offensively and potentially saved them from an early demise in the postseason races.
"Last year, I had a hard season and I learned a lot," Santana said Monday. "This year, I'm feeling more comfortable and I'm happy to come back to my sweet home. I've tried to enjoy every game, every moment. ... It's hard because it was a little difficult for me to play with a new team, new friends, new manager. I played for a long time with the Cleveland Indians. It, a little bit, affected me. But I'm happy to come back."
Santana has felt a level of comfort in Cleveland, and his trade back to the Indians seems to have been a significant blessing. He's in the midst of the best season of his career, hitting .297 with a .958 OPS, 19 home runs and 52 doubles. It's something he's still reflecting on, even half a season later, as he recently told Indians manager Terry Francona.
"We were sitting in the dugout the other [day] before the game and I think he was in a thoughtful mood, and he goes, ‘I love it here,’ and it kind of hit me. I said, ‘We love having you here,’ " Francona said. "And then I told him, ‘I want a favor. I want to get a picture with you tomorrow at the ballpark.’ We got one when we were on that tour of Japan and sentimentally it meant a lot. He has grown so much, and it’s not just with me, it’s with everybody."
'It’s a dream'
As for Lindor, seeing his face everywhere around Cleveland for the past week, it's still an eye-opening experience even as he enters his fourth consecutive All-Star Game.
"I was telling my agent earlier, ‘Wow, this is insane, it’s a dream,' " Lindor said. "To go from a little kid in Puerto Rico to signing professional and having all these things, I’m not here by myself. My family being a big part, my coaches, my agent has been a big part of my career. It’s special, everywhere you go you see your face."
Santana and Lindor, along with Brad Hand (third All-Star Game) and Shane Bieber (first selection), will be the Indians' four representatives in Tuesday's All-Star Game. Bieber was a late addition with Mike Minor not being able to play in the game.
Bieber (8-3, 3.45 ERA, 141 strikeouts), who just turned 24, has been the lone consistent force in an Indians rotation that has been ravaged by injuries and poor stretches, and he was recognized for that with an All-Star selection. When Bieber was announced as an All-Star, Trevor Bauer — staying in the next hotel room over — ran over and began knocking on Bieber's door. Bauer has struggled through two months of frustration in his own right, so it meant more to Bieber that he was banging on his door.
"He was fired up," Bieber said. "He gave me a big hug. He was like, ‘Dude, congrats, I’m so happy for you.’ And that meant a lot. Not just coming from him, but from my teammates as well. That really meant a lot to me."
Bieber isn't sure if he'll pitch on Tuesday, but says he was told to be ready. It certainly wasn't the plan, but thus far this season he's already proven he's ready to shoulder a significant load for an unstable rotation.
Hand, meanwhile, is expected to pitch the eighth inning for the American League.
“It doesn’t matter to me," Hand said. "It’s just gonna be a fun experience no matter what. I hope Shane gets in there as well, being his first All-Star Game. I’m just looking forward to it.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.