Cubs’ Frank Schwindel reflects on wild year as he tries to get locked in at the plate again

“I’m going to play until somebody takes the jersey off my back,” the journeyman first baseman said.

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Chicago Cubs v Colorado Rockies

Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel is off to a slow start at the plate in 2022.

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

MILWAUKEE — As May arrived one year ago, where in the wide world of sports was Frank Schwindel?

He was in San Jose, California, toiling rather anonymously at the Oakland Athletics’ alternate training site. On May 1, he played in a scrimmage. Five days after that, he was in the lineup for the A’s Triple-A team in Las Vegas. He went 0-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts, in case it matters to anyone now.

“I was just kind of winging it,” he recalled.

Already nearing 29 and in his ninth season of professional baseball, Schwindel, an 18th-round draft pick, knew better than to count on anything beyond his persistent desire to keep chasing his dream. He’d had the bitter experience of finally making the Royals’ Opening Day roster in 2019, only to be designated for assignment, then released in May of that year. He’d caught on with the Tigers as a minor-leaguer, only to have the 2020 minor-league season canceled because of the pandemic.

And soon enough — by June of 2021 — he’d be back in the big leagues, homering in his first at-bat with the A’s. How wildly great did it go from there? Eight games later, he was shipped out again. The Cubs claimed him off waivers in July — and, of course, would have a use for him at Wrigley Field after trading first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Life comes at you fast, dude.

“Oh, man, it really does,” Schwindel said before a game against the division-leading Brewers at American Family Field on Saturday. “To be getting called up by the A’s to being sent down and [designated for free agency] the next game or whatever, I mean, that’s not a great moment. And then the Cubs signing me to go to Iowa, and I go there and play terrible — and still get called up and end up playing very well?

“That is a crazy year — but still so much fun.”

Not that the ups and downs have ended. Schwindel has yet to cut loose at the plate in 2022 as he famously — shockingly, uncannily — did over a two-month stint with the Cubs in the second half of last season. He’s essentially in a competition for playing time with rookie Alfonso Rivas, whose own offensive credentials are growing.

Maybe Schwindel’s gaudy numbers with the 2021 Cubs — he hit .325 with 13 homers, 40 RBI and a 1.002 OPS — were a blip, a tease, an anomaly. Maybe “Frank the Tank” will someday be remembered as “Frank the Flash,” as in flash in the pan.

Who could know? Schwindel’s path to first base with the Cubs was utterly unpredictable. His future with the Cubs — and as a big-leaguer — still could go any number of ways.

As the Cubs slide out of a losing April and try to get something better going, they undoubtedly would love to see a return of the out-of-nowhere slugger with “Tank” as a now-and-again nickname — it goes back to his high school days in New Jersey — and “win” right in the middle of his last name.

“The sign of a good hitter, to me, is a guy that can kind of tread water when they don’t feel sexy and don’t feel their best,” manager David Ross said. “His timing may be a little bit off right now, but I still have a lot of confidence in him. That’s for sure.”

Every day up here — in the majors — is at least a pretty good one, Schwindel figures. Especially because he knows better than most what it’s like to be down there. Here, there, nowhere; coming and going, hoping and grinding.

Didn’t he ever think about giving it up?

“No, that has never crossed my mind even for one second,” he said. “I always felt like I was good enough. I’m going to play until somebody takes the jersey off my back.”

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