Ask Javier Báez to rank the shortstops of his generation, and he’ll put Francisco Lindor at the top.
“He’s the best,” Báez said, “but I’m El Mago.”
He pointed at the camera with both hands and flashed a smile. The only thing missing was sparks shooting out of his magician’s fingers.
A two-game series between the Cubs and the Indians this week also meant the matchup of two of the best shortstops in the game: Báez and Lindor. It was also the reunion of two friends.
Báez and Lindor’s routes to becoming elite MLB shortstops were shockingly similar. Both were born in Puerto Rico, and even played against each other growing up. They both moved to Florida when they were young. Their high schools met in a game that was estimated to have drawn over 100 scouts. They were drafted No. 8 and 9 in the 2011 MLB Draft.
Báez said he and Lindor talk often. Their families famously spent Thanksgiving together several years ago.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m here or not,” Báez said.
On Tuesday, Báez and Lindor arrived at Progressive Field around the same time. They caught up, and Lindor congratulated Báez on his second child – Báez announced earlier this week that he and his wife were expecting. Báez said he asked Lindor to sign a bat for him.
“And I already got it in my locker,” Báez said.
As of this season, Báez and Lindor added another commonality. Both have shared the middle infield with Jason Kipnis.
“They're both better at baseball than me,” Kipnis said. “And I don't know what's in the water over there, or something, but these guys just their natural ability to play this game is astonishing.
“The athletic ability and the way they are very smooth and coordinated -- these two are some of the most coordinated guys in the entire league to be able to do what they do. And to look that smooth doing it so it's not easy. I know both of them work hard to stay that kind of limber and flexible to play the defense that they do.”
Between that highly-attended high school game, multiple All-Star games, international competition with Puerto Rico and the 2016 World Series, Báez and Lindor have shared the field in plenty of big moments.
But his favorite was the double play they turned in the semifinals of the 2017 World Baseball Classic, to help send Puerto Rico to the championship.
To end the 11th inning against the Netherlands, Báez fielded a dribbler at second base and flipped the ball back-handed to Lindor. The shortstop moved through the bag and fired to first.
That’s what happens with you mix “the best” with El Mago.