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Just Sayin’: For Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber, 2019 improvement is a walk in the park

Somewhere in the Sonoran Desert, Kyle Schwarber drew yet another walk Tuesday. It was his ninth base on balls in his first 18 Cactus League plate appearances. These are verifiable facts due to a little something those of us who like to stay in the know call the interwebs.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Who needs Bryce Harper when you already have Schwarber?

Whoa — that came out way too fast.

Harper, one of the game’s greatest talents, walked more than anybody in baseball last season: 130 times. It’s somewhere on the long list of reasons the Phillies got down on bended knee last week and put a $330 million ring on it.

Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber watches his double against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning of a spring baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

It’s worth noting, though, that Schwarber is becoming quite the walksman himself. He led the Cubs last season with 78 of them — one shy of 10th place in the National League — and has walked at least once in all nine games he has played in this spring.

Be as excited as you want about Schwarber’s three doubles and .500 batting average thus far in Arizona, or ignore those silly-early numbers and wait for a sample size that means something to you. Either way, I’m more into his parade of walks and what it might portend.

Just asking: If Schwarber kicks his 2019 walks total into triple digits, could he become only the second Cubs regular since Derrek Lee in 2007 to post an on-base percentage of .400 or better? A career-high 95 walks helped Kris Bryant get to .409 in 2017.

Maybe it’s far-fetched, but what can I say? I’m just naïve enough to look at what Schwarber did in coming back from a devastating knee injury to help win the World Series in 2016, and what he did with last offseason’s complete body transformation, and believe in this guy’s ability to do what he sets his mind to.

Schwarber has done extreme heavy lifting to prove his physical worth. As he told me last month in Mesa, his new major undertaking involves the mental side of his game.

“It’s a long season,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs. You’ve got to be able to handle those ups and downs. That’s something anyone can do better at. That’s definitely something I can — and need to — do better at.”

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The surest way to fight off an offensive slump has always been with a well-trained eye. Schwarber’s intention this season is to play the game more calmly, with better focus, to anticipate and see the game better on both sides of the ball. All these silly-early walks? They’re evidence of that.

I’M JUST SAYIN’

Boy, you sure have to admire the Blackhawks’ never-say-die spirit, don’t you? Even after a two-week debacle during which they went from tied for eighth place in the Western Conference — playoffs, baby! — to a look-away-hideous eight points back with 16 games to go, they’re refusing to give up.

Because they’re hockey players, dang it.

And, apparently, raving lunatics.

“These are our playoffs right now,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s do-or-die.”

Translation: Time to start sweeping out the barns in Witless Bay, Mushaboom and Punkeydoodles Corners. The boys will be home for the offseason soon.

• I don’t know for a fact that any of the Hawks live in any of those Canadian towns, I just know I searched the aforementioned interwebs for “funny Canadian city names” and the rest was history. It’s a rabbit hole I highly recommend falling down.

• Line of the week, from the Sun-Times’ own Mark Potash on Twitter: “Admitting Jim Boylen is doing a better job of coaching the Bulls than Fred Hoiberg is almost as tough as admitting Jeremy Colliton is doing a better job of coaching the Blackhawks than Joel Quenneville.”

I laughed. I cried. I cursed Potsie for being more clever and insightful than I am.

• A tip of the cap to Loyola’s Marques Townes, who Tuesday was named Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball player of the year. It’s wonderful to see him get his due. Other Ramblers players received more publicity during last season’s run to the Final Four, but I thought Townes was the team’s best player down the stretch. When cramps got to him in the national semifinal against Michigan, it was all she wrote for the Ramblers.

• Bold, fearless, borderline heroic prediction of the week: Northwestern will beat Ohio State Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, bringing an excruciating 10-game losing streak to a merciful end.

In unrelated news, a tree will fall in a forest.

• NBA “star” Vince Carter (remember a decade or so ago when he actually was one?) played 45 minutes for the Hawks last Friday in a four-overtime loss to the Bulls. Three nights later, he buried seven three-pointers against the Heat. The man is 42 years old. There are mailboxes his age that move better. Yet there the one-time greatest dunker in the world goes, doing his thing because why the heck not? Talk about Vinsanity.