Every kid who grows up playing baseball imagines himself playing in the World Series.
Kyle Schwarber was no different growing up in Middletown.
But the Middletown High School graduate couldn’t walk for six weeks last summer after tearing two ligaments in his left knee in an outfield collision with Dexter Fowler on April 7 against the Diamondbacks.
The Chicago Cubs ran away with the NL Central without him and marched through the playoffs.
“There was always that deep hole in the deep pit of my stomach, where I wanted to be out there and help the team,” Schwarber said. “I knew that I was missing out on something special. I tried to stay positive.
“I found ways to help, whether it was scouting reports or watching how guys would be pitching people, things like that. I tried to stay in the game mentally and become a student.”
The Cubs were in Cincinnati on the last weekend of the regular season and manager Joe Maddon was asked about Schwarber’s progress. Right away he said, “He won’t be back but he’s working real hard and is a part of the team.”
Maddon wasn’t misleading anyone because no one could have envisioned a player coming back and playing at such a high level after suffering that type of injury and missing six months.
But there he was, back for the World Series, helping the Cubs win it for the first time in 108 years, adding to what already had become his considerable legend by batting .412 with two doubles. Schwarber didn’t just play, he ignited the winning rally against the Indians, starting the 10th inning of Game 7 with a single and leading to a busy winter.
“It was crazy,” he said. “There was a lot of travel. I did a lot of things I wouldn’t have been able to do. I went to Los Angeles, New York. I did some charity events. It was really cool. The Cubs fans thank you personally for the things that you did. We really appreciate that.”
Now, instead of answering “can you recover?” questions this spring, Schwarber, the fourth player taken in the 2014 draft, is getting ready for the season alongside his teammates. Standing 6 feet tall and weighing 235 pounds with a powerful frame that has earned him the nickname “The Incredible Hulk,” he wasn’t difficult to pick out on the Cubs’ back fields in Mesa the other day.
PHOTOS: Kyle Schwarber through the years
A left fielder these days more than a catcher, he was working on a first-step drill with coach Dave Martinez, one that reminded him of pregame warmups back in his football days at Middletown, where he was second team All-Ohio as a linebacker.
Schwarber finished the defensive drill, then a quick set of pushups before heading to the batting cage, where he put on a jaw-dropping power display in front of a group of high school players and a gallery of 50-60 autograph seekers before granting an interview.
How this kid’s life has changed from his days in Middletown is as astonishing as how quickly it all happened.
Schwarber was ignored by all 30 major-league teams out of high school and went to play baseball at Indiana University. He wasn’t ignored there, earning two-time All-American honors by hitting .341 with 40 home runs and 149 RBIs in 180 games.
He then toured the Cubs’ minor leagues faster than a roving instructor, from Boise to Kane County and Daytona in 2014, hitting .343 with 18 home runs in 262 at-bats over 72 games. In 2015 he started at Class AA Tennessee and hit his way to Chicago, making his major-league debut June 16 against Cleveland. He was sent to Class AAA Iowa, then played in the Futures Game in Cincinnati as part of the All-Star events and was named MVP after hitting a two-run triple and throwing out a runner — he was still a catcher then — trying to steal second.
Two weeks later, on July 21, Schwarber hit a two-run, game-tying home run in the ninth inning against the Reds and the game-winning homer in the 13th.
This past winter was a whirlwind for Schwarber, who has moved from Middletown but still has family there. His father, Greg, was the police chief.
”I did go back to Middletown,” Schwarber said. ”I got a little homecoming. I got to go to the middle school and the high school and had a signing thing downtown. It was great to see my buddies at home. I‘ve been with them since I was little. It was awesome. I was able to see them all over again and hear what they said.”
He returned a hero for his role in helping end the longest championship drought in sports.
“The World Series was a blessing,” he said. “You can’t put it into words. You miss the whole season and someone believes in you enough to think you could come back and help the team win when you’re out for six months. Everyone from top to bottom, the organization, the coaches, the skipper, my teammates believed in me.
“I give a lot of thanks to my teammates for wanting me to stay in Chicago and be around the team. I feel that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play.”