CLEVELAND -- A week ago, Kyle Schwarber's sights were on Spring Training. Yet, there he was on Tuesday, staring at a text message from Cubs first-base coach Brandon Hyde with Schwarber's name in the lineup for Game 1 of the World Series against the Indians, batting fifth and serving as the designated hitter.
Asked when it dawned on him that this was even a possibility, Schwarber smiled and said, "I'd probably say about six days ago."
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That line elicited laughs in the room.
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"It probably hasn't hit," Schwarber said. "I'd say probably once I hit that [foul] line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out. I'll probably cry at some point today."
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Could you blame the slugger for those tears of joy? Before Tuesday, Schwarber had not played a Major League game since April 7, when he tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee in an outfield collision with Dexter Fowler. Schwarber underwent surgery that was expected to sideline him until 2017.
Every month or so, Schwarber went in for a checkup. He was making progress, but he wouldn't be ready until Spring Training, the doctor told him.
During a routine visit last week, just as the Cubs were traveling to Los Angeles for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the National League Championship Series, the doctor said something different.
"He looked at my knee, he's like, 'Man, it's great. You're strong. I'm not going to hold you back from doing anything,'" Schwarber said. "So then we went from there."
Schwarber immediately called Cubs president Theo Epstein and lobbied for the opportunity to try a comeback. Epstein and the medical staff approved, so Schwarber jetted off to the Arizona Fall League for a crash course of cage work. Schwarber estimates he saw 1,300 pitches from a pitching machine, including breaking balls on the nastiest setting available, "just to train my eyes again." Schwarber took so many swings that blisters developed on his hands, but he fought through to log six at-bats in a pair of AFL games, watching from the bench as the Cubs clinched the NL pennant on Saturday night, then going 1-for-3 on Monday with Epstein watching via a closed-circuit television feed. Schwarber doubled and lined out twice -- one of which topped 110 mph as it left the bat, according to Statcast™.
With some live pitching under his belt, Schwarber traveled on a private jet to Cleveland on Monday night, stopped by Progressive Field to soak it in, and retired for a restless night of sleep. On Tuesday morning, the Cubs added him to their World Series roster. By midday, Schwarber got the text from Hyde informing him he was in the lineup.
"[Cubs reliever] Pedro Strop said all along, 'Man, you're going to be back for the World Series.'" Schwarber said. "But the process was a long time. I mean, at first, I didn't think I was ever going to have a normal knee again. ... It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it's game time. I'm going to be locked in. I'm going to be ready to go and go out there and try to win this."
In the postseason last year, Schwarber went 9-for-27 with five home runs, including the towering shot that landed atop the right-field scoreboard at Wrigley Field. That baseball is still there, encased in Plexiglas for posterity.
Does he have another moment like that in him?
"I've got full confidence in myself," Schwarber said. "I'm sure you guys saw the video in the Fall League, that was probably about 50 percent of what I could actually do in a game. We were more focusing on at-bats there, and not focusing on the running portion. We did that earlier in the day, and felt really good. I have full confidence in myself and my running ability."