You Cubs fans are in no position to ask for anything from the baseball gods. The one thing you really wanted, the only thing you ever wanted, you have already received. Your team won the World Series last season. Now go away and don’t come back for another 108 years.
But there is this other one thing, isn’t there? The kid, Kyle Schwarber, you’d like to see what he can do over an entire season. You’d like to get a full year of mighty swings and soaring home runs from him. For him. You’d even like to see his adventures and misadventures in left field, so endearing is Schwarber.
He missed almost all of last season after blowing out his knee, and what you’ve had to settle for in his short career — not that you’re complaining! — is an eye-opening 69 regular-season games in 2015, his rookie season, an even better 2015 playoffs and a Willis Reed-like emotional return for the World Series. If anyone deserves a break, you are sure it’s this kid.
And so you tiptoe toward the baseball gods and ask, eyes cast down, if it would be possible for them in all their beneficence to see fit to allow his knee to remain healthy. And the rest of his body, too, if it’s not trying their patience. You promise not to bother the gods again. Until Jake Arrieta starts struggling.
When Schwarber injured his knee in the third game last season, I wrote that a lot of the fun had instantly been sucked out of the Cubs’ season. It was an overreaction, but my heart was in the right place — down toward my feet.
I felt bad for him, and I felt bad for anyone who enjoys the show he’s capable of putting on. I felt bad for me, the writer who had been ready to chronicle his oversized exploits. There was nobody like him in baseball, nobody with his earnestness, with his infectious joy, with his power.
As it turned out, the Cubs managed to find some fun in winning the World Series.
Still, it would be nice to see all of Schwarber this season, all of the player who has lit up Chicago in a relatively brief amount of time. I don’t think that’s asking too much. The Cubs were extremely fortunate last season in the injury department. Aside from Schwarber’s bad injury, they didn’t have to deal with many physical issues. Other top teams did.
The odds would suggest that there might be some sort of cosmic payback in 2017. If that’s the case, then for Schwarber’s sake, I hope the injury payback happens to someone else. That’s equal parts sympathy and selfishness talking. I want more of him.
Schwarber turned 24 earlier this month, but it feels like he has been part of the fabric of this town for years. He is one of the most popular Cubs, even though he has played in only 85 regular-season and postseason games combined. How the heck did that happen?
First of all, there’s his physique. With a 6-foot, 235-pound frame, he’s built like a bank vault. He hits home runs that end up on top of outfield video boards, the stuff of legend. If anyone can confirm that Schwarber carries an axe and hangs out with a blue ox named Babe, please let me know.
He’s a talkative guy who’s comfortable in the spotlight, though he doesn’t appear to seek it. He seems genuine, folksy, and that’s a huge part of his popularity. He reminds me of a latter-day Moose Skowron. Look him up, kids.
The Cubs love Schwarber so much that manager Joe Maddon can’t bring himself to tell him that he’s not a catcher, even though that’s likely the case. If all goes right, this season will give us the chance to see firsthand whether he can play a decent left field or whether Maddon’s glowing spring-training compliments — one couldn’t help but think he was describing a budding Alex Gordon — were standard Maddonian sweet nothings.
Schwarber’s allure isn’t his defense. It’s his bat. If he stays healthy, what’s realistic for him? Thirty-five homers? Forty? That might sound outlandish for someone who has played so little, but he came to the major leagues looking like a fully formed major-league hitter. Why beat around the bush?
Let’s see what he does with 550 at-bats. Please?
Follow me on Twitter@MorrisseyCST.