A Chicago folk hero brings his postseason act to Boston

BOSTON — Before Red Sox first baseman Kyle Schwarber cemented his status as a big-game performer, he was just a high school senior trying to impress a visiting college coach.

It was 2011, and Schwarber, a star at Middletown High School in Ohio, was well aware that Tracy Smith, Indiana University’s head coach, was there when he scored three home runs in a game. Seeing how calm the youngster was under pressure, Smith did not delay in making him an offer.

Smith said, ‘Great players do a good job. “They seize those opportune moments.”

Schwarber’s knack for rising to the occasion followed him to college and then to the majors. Smith remembers Schwarber’s home race in the Big Ten Championship Game in 2014 and his World Series performance in 2016, when he hit .412 after quickly coming back from major knee injuries, himself the nation’s curse breaker. Established as one of the heroes. North side of Chicago.

On Sunday, Schwarber was back to his old trick, this time for the Red Sox, collecting three hits, including a leadoff home run. Boston’s wild 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 3 of their American League Division Series. He will soon make his American League Championship Series debut as the Red Sox beat the Rays in Monday’s Game 4.

Schwarber, 28, was hitting .305 with a .412 on-base percentage and had eight homers in 28 career playoff games that entered Monday, most of which came with the Cubs. In 2016, he and a nucleus that included Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and JV Baez delivered the organization’s first championship since 1908. But that corps never won another ring, and Chicago spent the past year disbanding the group. Bryant went to San Francisco before the trade deadline, Rizzo to the Yankees and Badges to the Mets.

Schwarber, who went non-tendered after a down year for Chicago in December, was the first of the bunch to leave. “He was so grateful for his time with the Cubs,” said Schwarber’s father, Greg. “He sincerely believed that he would still be with the Cubs.”

Instead, Schwarber spent the first half of the 2021 season with the Washington Nationals after signing a one-year deal in January. He flourished for Washington, scoring 16 home runs in the span of 18 games from June 12 to 29. A hamstring injury and fire sales from star players soon ended his national stint.

Boston took over the injured Slugger on July 29. He finally took the field for the Red Sox on August 13 and went on to hit .291 in 41 regular season games with seven homers and 18 RBIs. From August 13 until the end of the regular season, his .957 on-base plus slugging percentage was the 13th best in the Majors among players with at least 150 plate appearances, just ahead of Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees.

Drafted fourth overall by the Cubs in 2014, Schwarber knew no other organization prior to this season and had to settle for a life on the move – being eligible for free agency this off-season. A position is exacerbated if he and the Red Sox do not exercise the mutual contract option.

“That’s it,” said Schwarber. “It’s just part of the game. It’s the business side. There aren’t many people in any organization you see your whole career. It’s so special when you look at it. I’m a winning outfit with the Cubs.” I’ve been fortunate to be where we went to the playoffs five out of six times.”

During his short time in Washington, he lamented that the team did not play to its potential.

“We were really good on paper, and the injuries kept mounting on us,” he said. “And business happens, and you get in a really good position where you’re pushing here to race to the playoffs. That’s all you want as a baseball player, just be in that kind of atmosphere and that position.” .

Schwarber reflected on his turnaround year ahead of Game 3 on Sunday, which Boston won in 13 innings. Apart from his stellar hitting, Schwarber, who is often a social media darling, has also made a mark. self-deprecating viral highlight enthusiastically celebrating his execution of a routine underhand throw to first base. He had earlier foiled a similar play.

After scoring a walk and a run in Monday’s deciding Game 4, it’s up to the player and the team on the LCS.

Schwarber, who drilled a home run from Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, in the AL wild-card game, hopes to be 6 for 19 in his first postseason opening leg with the Red Sox. His uniform has changed, but Schwarber is thriving under pressure.

“There are some people who step up in moments like these. He has always been the one,” said Fred Norie, a longtime coach and friend of Schwarber’s from Middletown. “As far as what is causing all this, if someone can figure it out, that would be interesting. There are only a few people who do. He always has.”

Norie and others argued that Schwarber’s football background—he played linebacker in high school—helped him develop his flair for the dramatic. “He’s just been good with it,” said Norie, who referred Schwarber to Smith. Smith noted a “mix of humility and confidence”. Schwarber’s newest manger, Alex Cora, credits the Cubs’ growth system.

“It’s like that group from Chicago, all those kids, they understand what it takes to be a winner,” Cora said.

“One thing with him — and I think it’s more about the Fenway, Boston, passion — he played in a similar environment to Chicago,” Cora continued. “With him, it’s not so different.”

Schwarber chalked up his post-season success to a plethora of opportunities.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be on really good teams in college and in the little leagues and in the big leagues,” he said. “I got a chance to experience the wild card and go into the NLCS in my first year. Then second year running and winning a World Series, another NLCS my third year. You can lean back on the experience when you’re into big stuff like this.”

Third baseman Rafael Devers and Cora praised Schwarber’s clubhouse presence this post season, with Cora noting his influence on rookie first baseman Bobby Dalbeck. “He feels like he’s been here for 10 years,” Cora said.

While Schwarber’s status with the Red Sox will remain up in the air throughout the early part of the off-season, he plans to find something familiar after a busy year. He and his wife, Paige, are building a house near Middletown, and Schwarber and his father seek to revive youth baseball, a costly endeavor in the once booming steel town, which “rediscovers its identity”. is fighting for,” said Greg Schwarber.

“I love my hometown. It’s part of the person I am today,” said Kyle Schwarber, whose three sisters also live nearby. “It’s a really special place.

“It would be nice to be back home.”

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