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Teammates want injured Schwarber alongside for home opener intros

Kyle Schwarber

PHOENIX – When the Cubs think about standing along the third-base line at Wrigley Field Monday night for the first time since the playoffs last fall, their thoughts inevitably turn to the teammate who will need crutches to be there.

“I think it would be awesome,” new Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward said of Kyle Schwarber. “If he gets to do it, that’d be awesome for him and awesome for us, for him. I know the fans would love it as well.”

Schwarber, the second-year slugger pitcher Jason Hammel said was like a son to him and who center fielder Dexter Fowler calls “my little brother,” returns to Chicago for Monday’s home opener still awaiting surgery after suffering a season-ending knee injury Thursday night from an outfield collision with Fowler.

Ahead of one of the most anticipated openers in Wrigley Field history, the appearance of fan-favorite Schwarber during pregame introductions could be the emotional moment of the night.

The last time the home fans saw Schwarber play, he was setting a franchise record with five playoff home runs last October, including one, well-documented launch to the top of the right-field video board.

His injury was about the only thing that went wrong for the team on a 5-1 opening swing through Anaheim and Arizona that included a pair of victories by Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta – including a 7-3 victory Sunday in which he hit a two-run homer.

Schwarber, who’s already focusing on his next medical step, said he hadn’t thought about being part of the ceremonies for his first big-league home opener.

“It’d be cool,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll be with the doctor or anything. I haven’t been looking that far ahead.”

Players, fans and front office have looked ahead to this night for months.

With the Wrigley Field marquee recently re-installed, a second round of renovations is unveiled Monday, including the second-largest home clubhouse in major league baseball.

“Good timing on my part,” said Heyward, who signed an eight-year, $184 million free agent deal over the winter.

“I would imagine everybody will go in there [upon Sunday’s late return] and take a peek and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and take a tour and all that stuff,” said left-hander Jon Lester, who gets the starting assignment for the home opener. “Guys are really excited to get back and see how it turned out.”

Not expected to generate as much excitement are the security lines created by increased use of metal detectors and screening this season. The team advises building in a lot of extra time to get in.

But the most important new-and-improved stuff for the new season is on field for the first time at home: Heyward in right, Ben Zobrist at second, right-hander John Lackey awaiting his Cubs home debut Wednesday.

“It’s going to be awesome and crazy in a good way for us,” Heyward said.

In addition to Schwarber, Monday also marks the first Wrigley Field opener for third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell, key rookies in 2015 who were called up for debuts in mid-April.

“I expect a lot of things that day,” Russell said. “The atmosphere is going to be crazy.”

 

Notes: Fowler, whose hip has been sore since the Schwarber collision, was out of the lineup Sunday but only as a scheduled rest day, manager Joe Maddon said. He’s 0-for-8 in his career against Sunday’s Arizona starter, Shelby Miller. The Cubs leadoff man, who pinch hit in the eighth and was hit by a pitch, is off to a 10-for-19 start with five walks and a .640 on-base percentage in his five games. … Javy Baez (thumb) is scheduled to join AAA Iowa on Monday to start an injury-rehab assignment.