One evening when Jose (Chico) Lind was 10, he crept into a neighbor's chicken coop in his hometown of Dorado, Puerto Rico, and tried to sneak off with a hen. "But the bird, she started clucking and squawking," recalls the Pirate second baseman, "and the neighbor, he hear her and come outside ready to fry me." Little Jose pressed the chicken under his arm and sprang off a patch of chicken feed, clearing the top of a five-foot-high chain link fence by inches. The neighbor stared incredulously.
Which is about how Lind's teammates react to his leaping, acrobatic play nowadays. They'll watch in stunned silence as Lind smothers a ball he has lunged halfway across the infield for, flashes to his knees and fires to nail the base runner. "There's no doubt Chico's the best defensive second baseman in the league," says Pirate shortstop Jay Bell. "He turns the double play better than Ryne Sandberg and has more range. He gets to balls Ryno only waves at." Sandberg, who has won seven straight Gold Glove Awards, says simply, "Lind is the Ozzie Smith of second basemen."
Or maybe the Evel Knievel. For years, the 5'11", 170-pound Lind has, as a lark, been leaping over the heads of standing players, over Volkswagens, even over Joe Garagiola. Somebody once taped a $20 bill to an air duct 12 feet off the ground and dared Lind to snatch it. Lind took one step and did. "That twenty was in my pocket before I hit the floor," he says.
Pirate manager Jim Leyland remembers a spring training workout in 1986 at which Lind did a modified Fosbury Flop over 6'4" first baseman Jason Thompson. "I knew then that Chico could jump," says Leyland. "I just wasn't sure if he could run or throw or hit." As it turned out, running and throwing were no problem. The hitting didn't come around until this year. A career .266 hitter, Lind was batting .305 as of Sunday.
Lind was born in 1964, a leap year. "My mother, she read all kind of books to me," he says. "Stuff like the horse who jump over the moon." That's one of Mother Goose's more obscure nursery rhymes.
As a kid Lind had nowhere to go but up. He joined the track team at Jose Alegria High and had reached 6'7" in the high jump when the Pirates signed him as a free agent in 1982. He then lindied around the minors for five years before landing in Pittsburgh on Aug. 27, 1987. He made his big league debut the next night as a defensive replacement for Johnny Ray. The night after that, Lind replaced Ray offensively, too, the Pirates having traded Ray to California. "I jumped over Johnny, yes!" Lind says gleefully.
Even when Lind is down, he's up. One scorching day last season, Lind and outfielder Andy Van Slyke jogged off the field together. Lind had been in a miserable slump.
"It's too heat out there," Van Slyke said to Lind in mock Spanglish.
"Man, it can't be too heat," said Lind, " 'cause I ain't had two heats in a month."
That's the kind of sly wit you might expect from a guy who once stood on second base tootling Old MacDonald Had a Farm on a small harmonica during a pitching change and who keeps a butcher's knife embedded in his locker. "When you're playing poker with Chico," says reliever Bill Landrum, "you literally never ask him to cut the cards."