If you’ve ever played co-ed softball, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You show up for your work-league game and the team captain is cussing as he hangs up his phone, lamenting the fact that one of your guys is stuck in traffic or caught up with stuff at work. But then, as though equipped with some sort of distress radar, this big dude lumbers up and is like, “Hey bro, you need an extra guy?”
And this isn’t Jerry from IT or Kevin from the mail room, either. No, this is a guy who’s been spending 30 hours a week at the softball complex for the last few years and who’s been spending his alimony payments on the newest bats before they hit retail. You look around when ol’ dude approaches you too because you know the other team has to realize he’s a ringer, but you really need that extra guy.
“What position you play?”
“Whatever, man. I’d rather play first, but whatever you need.”
As if you have any choice. Your regular first baseman can’t even hit his weight and he’s got a bad hammy anyway, so you could shift him to catcher and put the girls at second and right.
“Yeah, come on in.”
You feel a little guilty because you know you should really be playing with your regular lineup, which really isn’t that bad. I mean, you’ve got enough “talent” to win the league. But what can it really hurt to bring this guy in for a game? Besides, the other team might have a couple ringers of their own, so all you’re really doing is leveling the playing field. Yeah, that’s it.
If we’re bringing this little illustration back to reality, Theo Epstein is the team captain and Kyle Schwarber is the rando showing up at your game trying to get in a few AB’s before his next three games on the night. But while I’m using the image of the ringer in the pejorative here, the burly Cubs rookie has been anything but in his time in the Bigs this year.
He’s a ringer all right, but he’s not just some malingering schlub trying to avoid the harsh reality that’s more disappointing than the new Dr. Dre album (you have no idea how much it pains me to say this, but don’t waste your money). Schwarber was not supposed to be this good this fast. He wasn’t supposed to be a major league catcher and he wasn’t supposed to be this good a hitter.
But he is (for now) a major league catcher and he is this good a hitter. He’s also a Hoosier, a fact that I’ve been more than gratuitous in pointing out. From the moment he stepped into the league, Schwarber has acted as though he belonged. His easy demeanor belied any nerves, his enthusiasm showed a disregard for antiquated decorum. And he wasn’t even really suppose to be here.
Brought up as a fill-in during an AL-heavy stretch of games, the AA prospect showed out but was on a predetermined path to Iowa. Once Miguel Montero went to the DL, however, there was no holding Schwarber back. When you see just what that ringer can do, it’s hard to carry on without him. The Cubs’ offense had struggled mightily through the latter portion of June and much of July, missing that extra spark.
At the risk of wading into those weird waters fed by the gushings of middle-aged men over the accomplishments of a 22-year-old, I can’t say enough about what this kid brings to the team. He’s fired up in the dugout, but on the field he’s all kinds of serious. But not an uptight serious, more of an “I know I’m better than you and I’m here to crush your soul and make you question your ability to pitch at this level” kind of serious.
Look at him up there at the plate, just chilling back in that open stance — what some might refer to as a gangsta lean — as the pitcher prepares to deliver the ball. Once the windup begins, though, Schwarber straightens up, closes his stance, and readies the massive payload of potential energy that will soon be unleashed via a cylindrical maple sliver produced by the fittingly-named Dinger Bats.
Fellow rookie Chris Heston saw exactly how much energy Schwarber can generate when he offered up an 89 mph sinker that caught just a bit too much of the plate. For a compact man, Schwarber exhibits so much quickness in his swing. It’s as though he’s a massive, tightly-coiled spring that only needs to be twisted slightly in order to generate an exorbitant amount of power. As you can see in the video below, there’s not a great deal of load prior to that picture-perfect lefty uppercut swing.
I just can’t imagine growing tired of watching that. Neither can Schwarber’s teammates and neither can the Cubs front office, the members of which no longer have to feel as though their cheating by bringing this interloper in to propel a potential playoff push. No, the kid they call Hulk is officially on the roster at this point and he can go ahead and buy a lakeview condo on the North Side because he’s not going anywhere.
The Cubs are now pressing on with a regular lineup that includes four rookies, all of whom are capable of doing big things offensively. It’s far from an eggs-in-one-basket strategy, though it’d be a basket full of products from the golden goose if it was, but the Cubs will need to rely heavily on their youthful core moving forward. I wouldn’t have imagined saying this even two months ago, but Kyle Schwarber is going to be as much a part of their potential success as anyone.
Collecting a win against the defending World Series champ, and primary Wild Card competitor, on Thursday night was huge and Schwarber was integral in that, but the Cubs still have a tough road to hoe. Here’s to hoping I’ll have the chance to fawn over Kris Bryant a bit more as the season wears on, but for now I’m just going to sit in awe of the new guy for a while.