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With Kyle Schwarber’s season finished, fun leaves the ballpark

Kyle Schwarber is taken off the field during the second inning of the Cubs' game against the Diamondbacks on April 7 last year. He missed the rest of the season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Cubs knew there were going to be obstacles this season, especially after the way they breezed through 2015 with nary a scratch. They weren’t thinking that the obstacle would arrive three games into the season or that it would look a bit like a climbing wall without footholds.

Kyle Schwarber’s blown-out left knee isn’t the end of the world for the Cubs, but it hurts them competitively and psychically. It’s the first real pall over a celebration that has been going on for the better part of a year.

The Cubs’ lineup is still stacked, but will it be as ridiculously fun? No.

Schwarber brought the possibility of a Ruthian home run with him every time he stepped to the plate. He brought entertainment both to the fans and to his teammates. Everybody saw the same thing: a squat, sawed-off kid who seemed oblivious to the pressure of the spotlight. No, it was more than that. He was made for the spotlight, his five postseason home runs serving as proof.

This isn’t an elegy for him or for a season, but – and overstatement is impossible here — this sucks. A 23-year-old guy with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn lateral cruciate ligament robbed of his first full season in the big leagues. Jeez.

Schwarber was injured Thursday night trying to make a hustle play on a long ball hit by the Diamondbacks’ Jean Segura. Playing left field, he collided with centerfielder Dexter Fowler. Schwarber’s left knee took the brunt of the impact, and he was carted off the field. The initial announcement said it was an ankle injury; any long-time sports observer knew it was a knee injury. The grim results were delivered late Friday afternoon after Schwarber had undergone a magnetic resonance imaging test: two torn ligaments and a season ended almost before it began.

You can’t fault Schwarber’s effort on the play, but you can question his judgment. He should have let Fowler, a talented, veteran centerfielder, try to make the play on the ball, especially given Schwarber’s inexperience as an outfielder. You’ll recall his misadventures in left during last season’s playoffs. He has still a ways to go to be a serviceable major-league outfielder.

But that’s beside the point now. It happened, and he’ll have plenty of time to dwell on it and learn from it. In the meantime, the Cubs will have to figure out how to make up for his absence. The good news comes in list form: Fowler, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell. For Cubs fans worried about Schwarber’s loss, that’s like a group hug. There’s enough firepower there to help fill in the crater left by a bad outfield collision.

It will give Jorge Soler the chance to prove that he should be more than someone for whom manager Joe Maddon struggles to find at-bats.

“Losing him and what he brings to the lineup is going to be tough,’’ Rizzo said of Schwarber. “We’ve got guys ready to step up. I know that.’’

They don’t have anybody who has hit a ball on top of the video board in right field at Wrigley Field, as Schwarber did against the Cardinals in a National League Division Series last season. They don’t have anyone who has smashed a windshield with a home-run ball during spring training, then tweeted to a windshield repair company, “Hey, @safelite, can you help this guy out?’’ with a photo of the damaged car. Schwarber did that.

For anyone who is in this for the fun, what happened Thursday hurts like crazy.

Lots of people figured that one of the three young Cubs – Schwarber, Bryant or Russell – would go through a sophomore slump this season. I thought it might be Schwarber, giving his mighty swings, but I also thought he might be the best equipped to handle it emotionally. There’s something carefree about him that goes well with that free swing.

But this isn’t a slump. This is a deep hole that’s going to take months to exit. I’m sure he’ll be at Wrigley as he goes through his rehab this spring and summer. But no matter how much he’s around, he’ll be missed. A lot.

The Cubs can still win the World Series. They have too much hitting depth on the roster. If this had been defending N.L. Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, they could have said goodbye to their big postseason plans. They can find ways to replace Schwarber’s bat.

But his entertainment value? That’s another story.