Series has a wrinkle for Chicagoland's Kipnis

Northbrook native comes from family of Cubs fans, attended same school as Bartman

October 24th, 2016

CLEVELAND -- caught the final out and thrust his arms skyward, celebrating a moment that was more than seven decades in the making. The fans inside Wrigley Field did the same, some shedding tears of joy, as the championship-starved Cubs secured a place in the World Series.

In Cleveland, did not know how to react.

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"I'm not going to lie," Kipnis said Sunday, while sitting on a table in the tunnel behind the dugout at Progressive Field. "I even teared up, because I didn't know how to handle it."

Why did it have to be the Cubs? That was Kipnis' initial reaction, as text messages from family members and close friends began buzzing his phone. The Indians' second baseman was born and raised in Northbrook, Ill., a suburb on Chicago's North Side. Reaching the World Series has been a dream come true for Kipnis and his Cleveland teammates, but there is now a torturous tone to it for him.

One of Kipnis' uncles is a doctor who delivered one of the children of Cubs great Ryne Sandberg. Kipnis grew up in the same area and attended the same high school as Steve Bartman, who is infamous in Chicago for interfering with a foul ball in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series with the Marlins in 2003. Kipnis' brother, Blair, has a close friend who runs a sports bar in Wrigleyville, a short walk from the ballpark.

"The Cubs are part of who I am," Kipnis said.

In his backyard as a kid, Kipnis played through the same scenario as plenty of kids who grew up on the North Side. It was the ninth inning in a critical World Series game. The count was full. His team was down. He was stepping to the plate with a championship on the line at Wrigley Field, which has not hosted a Fall Classic since 1945.

"I always thought it was going to be the bottom of the ninth," Kipnis said. "It's the top of the ninth now."

The Cubs have not won it all since 1908, representing the longest title drought in baseball. Kipnis is concerning himself with ending another streak, though. As Cleveland's leader in the clubhouse, and a steady force on the field, he is hoping to end his new home city's own World Series drought. The Indians have the second-longest run without a title, having not won it all since 1948.

Kipnis' family and friends understand.

The second baseman had friends in the stands at Wrigley on Saturday night, when the Cubs defeated the Dodgers to clinch a spot in the World Series. Kipnis, who watched the game at home in Cleveland with former Indians pitcher , began receiving encouraging messages from people who are rooting for him to win it all with Cleveland.

"They're Chicago fans," Kipnis said. "My brothers and sister are really big Cubs fans. With that being said, even unprovoked, I've had all of them and a bunch of my friends text me saying, 'It's not even an option. We're Tribe all the way.' It's meant a lot.

"It's reassured me of the inner circle that I've chosen for myself. Without me having to say anything, they reaffirmed that, 'Hey, we're on the Indians' side. The curse can wait one more year.'"

The Cubs will enter this World Series as the heavy favorites, which is fine by the Tribe's players. They have already beaten the Red Sox and Blue Jays as the underdogs, and they know most of the country is probably hoping to see Chicago finally end its fans' suffering.

"We know the Cubs' following, the Cubs' fan base, the nation's lovable losers," Kipnis said. "We know a lot of people are going to be cheering for the Cubs and it's going to make Wrigley that more fun."

Kipnis said he remembers following Sandberg and Mark Grace as a kid, and listening to famous Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. He said it was "must-see TV" when Sammy Sosa came to bat during his 1998 home run race with Mark McGwire. Kipnis remembers watching Kerry Wood strike out 20 batters in one game and sitting in the stands in 2003 when Mark Prior outdueled Greg Maddux in the playoffs.

Kipnis also remembers what it was like in Northbrook in the days following the Bartman Game. Kipnis attended St. Norbert School, as did Bartman. Chicago fans remember the guy sitting in Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113, wearing a turtleneck, dark sweatshirt, glasses and headphones over his blue Cubs cap. Kipnis can still picture the police cars on Bartman's street.

"I remember seeing cops lined outside of his house for the next month or two, just blocking it," Kipnis said. "Totally undeserving. Even as a sophomore in high school, I could see that everyone else was going for the ball, and everyone still does that. They needed a scapegoat, and they found one."

Kipnis understands the pain that has been associated with being a Cubs fan, so he also realizes how special this year is for the city of Chicago.

Now, though, he knows he needs to try to extend the Cubs' drought to 109 years.

"This is tough," Kipnis said. "The 10-year-old boy in me is saying, 'Why does it have to be the Cubs?' My whole social media and Facebook and everything is all Cubs posts, because that's what all of my friends and my hometown are fans of. And now I have to go try to disappoint all of them."