MORRISSEY: Trying to come to grips with the new-look Kyle Schwarber
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Kyle Schwarber looks like you and me now. Well, at least you, provided you’re svelte and toned and on a diet that sticks its nose up in the air at fast food. Are you? I didn’t think so.
Anyway, the guy whose Babe Ruth resemblance extended to his tape-measure home runs and stocky build now looks more like someone who runs a hedge fund than the bases. He was at the Cubs Convention on Friday, looking very dapper in a coat and tie, and I wanted to ask him if my portfolio had too much risk to it.
Thanks to diet and exercise, he has lost about 20 pounds. As much as the Cubs are gushing about his fitness for the 2018 season, it’s going to take some getting used to for those of us who equated his digging in at the plate to a tank parallel-parking.
This is the Babe going on a no-beer, no-hot-dog diet, and I’m not sure I like it. Don’t misunderstand: It’s a good thing for Schwarber — and probably for the Cubs — that he has shed weight and added flexibility. But his 6-foot, 235-pound build was part of his legend. This is the circus strongman you wanted on your softball team, and this is the guy you wanted to buy a beer for afterward.
If you want to be a sourpuss, and I often do, you can wonder out loud if this means that Schwarber wasn’t in shape before. But baseball shape is a wide spectrum. Now he’s doing more agility and core workouts. Now there is a lot more salmon and a lot less pizza.
‘‘It was more of a personal choice,’’ he said. ‘‘I want to be the best player I can be, and I think that it starts there. It’s not going to help me hit .500. You’ve just got to control things you can control; this is one thing I can control. People are making it out to be a big deal. This is just part of the job for me, just wanting to keep getting better.’’
Schwarber had a well-documented rough season in 2017, hitting .211 and, at one point, being sent to Class AAA. It would be difficult to assign those difficulties to his weight, seeing as how he had become a playoff cult hero in Chicago with the same physique.
Team president Theo Epstein said the Cubs planned to have a conversation with Schwarber about losing weight after last season, but he approached them about it first.
‘‘We’ve talked about some of these things in the past — getting a little bit more flexible, getting in shape that will allow him to be a little bit more effective in the outfield,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘Sometimes it takes, as he said, a whole lifestyle change, and you can’t be forced into that. That has to come when you’re ready for it.
‘‘He’s really put everything into this lifestyle change — the way he eats, the way he sleeps, the way he trains, the way he lives his life day to day. It’s the type of changes that can allow you to have a really long career and maximize your career. We’re happy for him and excited to see what happens next.’’
Epstein said he thinks there can be a correlation between being lighter and being more effective at the plate.
‘‘It’s such a fine line,’’ he said. ‘‘There were so many balls last year that he just clicked and fouled straight back, balls that maybe in the past he had driven. If he’s a little bit more athletic and a little bit more limber, it can only help. And another year removed from his knee issue, as well.’’
After going through rehab for his knee injury in 2016, Schwarber said last year that he was in the best shape of his life. That was then.
‘‘You can say different things about shape and what the definition of that means,’’ Schwarber said. ‘‘I’m just out there trying to feel good. Obviously, I felt good last year bodywise because my knee was healthy. Now, we’re trying to push beyond that.’’
Schwarber said he wants to be quicker on the basepaths. If his weight loss can stop his pursuit of fly balls in left field from turning into the Odyssey, that would be good.
‘‘It’s trying to be healthier in general, making better choices,’’ he said. ‘‘I wouldn’t say I was the unhealthiest person; I just think there’s always room to improve. This is just kind of a small step. . . . But I’ve still got to go out there on the field and perform.’’
As for where Schwarber will bat in 2018, manager Joe Maddon has said he’s not opposed to hitting him leadoff again, and Schwarber agrees. But it was a colossal failure last season, and it’s hard to understand why the Cubs would revisit that. If there’s going to be a new Schwarber, let it be a total makeover.
He wants to be the best version of himself, but he said he wouldn’t have changed a thing about the previous version, even with his struggles last season.
‘‘I guess I wouldn’t take anything back from the last couple of years,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, it wasn’t where I wanted to be, but I think it’s only going to be beneficial for the future and moving forward.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.