If you’re looking for adventure, take a ride with the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber
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It took all of one game to remind us how entertaining Kyle Schwarber can be.
Of course, one person’s ‘‘entertaining’’ is another person’s ‘‘I can’t bear to look.’’ So let’s go with ‘‘interesting.’’ The Cubs left fielder is interesting in the way that running with the bulls is interesting. There’s a decent chance someone’s going to get bloody. It might be him. It might be the other team. It might be us.
In the season opener Thursday against the Marlins, Schwarber had a terrible time tracking a fly ball that turned into a triple; let a ball skip past him, allowing a run to score; and mashed a home run.
A Gordie Howe Hat Trick was a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game. Maybe what we saw Thursday was a Kyle Schwarber Triple Play. If you want to be kinder and more positive, you can get rid of the fly-ball misadventure and substitute the walk he had on the way to a 1-for-3 afternoon. Thus, a Schwarber Triple Play would be a homer, a walk and an error.
It’s always fun to try to anticipate manager Joe Maddon’s explanation for why something bad befell one of his players. The first rule in his book is that it’s rarely the player’s fault. So was it the sun that did in Schwarber on the ball that skipped past him? A loose lace on his glove? The evils of pine tar?
‘‘With this kind of grass, when it’s cross-cut, it’s going to snake,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘It does snake. What happens, the ball is coming right at you, it can make a left turn, and that’s what happened to him. So you’re playing on that kind of an outfield, you’ve got to be a little bit more cautious as you’re coming to the ball.
‘‘It snakes. When I worked in Anaheim for years, that really fine Bermuda grass out there, a lot of the outfielders would complain about that exact situation. It actually moves on you. He learned a lesson there. It could have happened to anybody.’’
Ah, the rarely used and underappreciated grass defense. Nicely done.
To his credit, Schwarber was having none of it. That’s one of the endearing things about him: He takes responsibility. He’s in the clubhouse to face the media after he positively or negatively affects the outcome of a game. Or if he does both.
‘‘I didn’t like the fact that I missed a ground ball there,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve got to find a way to block that ball. Nice to have the homer there, but I wanted to make that play there for Jon Lester. I know he’s battling. If I just make that play, it gives him a better chance.’’
Other players have spent their baseball lives as outfielders. Schwarber has played left field for only a few seasons, and the Cubs very much would appreciate if you cut him some slack. But there are too many times he looks like the converted catcher he is while roaming the grassy expanses. Whether he ever will become a decent outfielder is still as up in the air as a fly ball.
The Cubs also would prefer that everyone focus on his upside as a hitter rather than on his deficiencies with a mitt on his hand. If he hits well, we will. If he doesn’t, surely the Cubs will look to Plan B, which might be Albert Almora Jr. in the outfield.
Schwarber said he feels at home in left field.
‘‘Very comfortable,’’ he said. ‘‘This is Year 2½, really. I felt good out there all spring.’’
After an error, he reminds himself that it’s over and that there’s nothing he can do about it anymore. That’s wrong, of course. He can hit a homer, which is what he did in the opener.
Schwarber has a very cool way of sizing up a home-run ball after he makes contact. He cocks his head as if he’s looking for deeper meaning in a painting. It’s what he did Thursday.
A lot has been made of his slimmed-down body. A better diet and workout plan led to, what, 20 pounds of weight loss? No one really is saying. When you stand next to him, you’re struck by how compact he is. He’s smaller than your standard power hitter. He’s not tall (6 feet, maybe) and not as wide as he used to be. He looks . . . unremarkable? Right until he hits a baseball.
Schwarber said during spring training that 420-foot homers are just as good as 500-foot homers. Going by his boomer into the wind against Tayron Guerrero, his power did not leave him at the salad bar.
Yes, Schwarber is better suited for work as a designated hitter, but what’s the point of that discussion now? He plays in the National League. The Cubs still love the kid they chose fourth overall in the 2014 draft. They love him enough to ignore his deficiencies as an outfielder.
All of this is predicated on his ability to hit a baseball, which he forgot how to do for a long time last season.
His goals for himself this season are simple.
‘‘I just want to see myself be me,’’ he said. ‘‘Go out there every day and try to help the team win. I’m not worried about anyone and how they perceive me or anything like that. I’m just worried about the guys in the room and trying to help the team win that day and just be me.’’
He can’t be anything else but what he is. Interesting.
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