Kyle Schwarber played 275 games in Wrigley Field for the Chicago Cubs who drafted him in the first round, fourth overall, in 2014, but he never entered the friendly confines of the 107-year-old ballpark as a member of the opposing team before Monday afternoon.
“It was weird seeing Murphy’s when you come in on that side I guess,” Schwarber said. “But it was nice being able to walk in here. Obviously a lot of great memories. Was able to go out on the field early, just check it out, think it was the same as we left it last time we were here. It’s going to be fun. Going to be exciting.
“Can’t wait for Big Jon [Lester] to toe the mound, it’s going to be fun.”
The 28-year-old slugger, who signed a 1-year/$10M with Washington’s Nationals after he was non-tendered by the Cubs this past winter, tried to get some sleep after taking a flight from Phoenix, AZ to Chicago last night, but the excitement of getting to return to his one-time home kept him up.
“I probably went to sleep — I tried to close my eyes around 11:00 and it just didn’t happen.
“But probably got to bed around 12:30 [AM] ... and I got to the ballpark here on the first bus around 1:00 [PM], so just getting your bearing set and getting the feel of the clubhouse and stuff like that and the flow of things.”
Nothing but love for Schwarbs. pic.twitter.com/oxxllPR2Qd— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 17, 2021
Schwarber struggled in his final season in the Cubs’ lineup, putting up a .188/.308/.393 line in 59 games and 224 PAs in the 60-game COVID campaign, over which he hit six doubles, and 11 home runs, and he got off to a slow start with his new team this season after ending up on the COVID-IL at the start of the year.
In 16 games and 67 PAs in April, Schwarber put up a .206/.254/.365 line with four doubles and two home runs (both walk-offs), but he’s picked it up over the last ten games, going 12 for 40 (.300/.404/.575) with two doubles and three home runs over that stretch, in which he’d also taken five of his 10 walks overall on the year.
What’s been different in the last few weeks?
“I think just the common theme, every time I’ve been able to talk to you guys, is the work in the cage is consistent and I’m taking it into the game,” Schwarber said.
“I think that’s kind of my biggest thing, is I’m really consistent in the cage right now, and I’m still working on hammering it down in the game, and I’m seeing results, I’m seeing it pay off, but I’m still going to keep working as hard as I can in the cage to perfect it to make sure that it’s perfected when I’m out there on the field.”
Seeing the hard work pay off with an uptick in his performance is gratifying, of course.
“It’s obviously a great feeling,” he said. “It’s just saying that the things you’re doing are paying off, and especially in situations where your team needs you. And that’s a great feeling, and you want to have a quick memory in this game in terms of failure and success, just so you don’t ride the roller coaster too much, but you want want to keep the good hitting feeling, the good sense of what you understand about your swing and your body in the box, and keep that feeling rolling.”
Schwarber did just that, homering on a 1-0 sinker from Cubs’ starter Adbert Alzolay in the top of the fourth for his first home run in Wrigley as a part of a visiting team, and the ball was thrown back from the bleachers as Cubs fans started to boo him as a member of the opposition for the first time.
“I was like, ‘They threw it back?’” Schwarber said after what ended up a 7-3 loss to his former team.
“But I was able to get the ball. And I’m going to get it authenticated and definitely keep that as a keepsake.
“Definitely a special moment here, for myself, just being able to get that hit in that moment, and kind of bring back momentum to our side, but at the end of the day we didn’t get it done.”
Did he feel like he had something to prove to the team that let him go last winter?
“You know, I mean, the end result of how I was obviously departed from the Cubs wasn’t ideal, you know,” he said, “obviously you want to go out there and you want to finish your tenure with your team, and you know, move on from there and whatever happens, happens. But you know what, it’s not a hate thing or anything like that, it’s more of just going out there and proving something to yourself.”
Schwarber was asked before the game if he thought he could find closure in Chicago after a disappointing final season with the Cubs.
He said it was more about getting a chance to say thank you to the fans in the Windy City.
“I don’t really — to be honest with you, I was along on the coattails here, I was riding the wave with these guys, you know .. I made a lot of moments here, and had a lot of cool things happen, and I’ve been part of a lot of cool things here, and it’s definitely going to be special to me, it’s definitely going to be a fun time tonight. I’m going to try to keep my emotions in check just in terms of not getting too excited and going out there trying to hit the nine-run homer and things like that. But it’s definitely going to be fun.”
“This is the place I grew up,” he added, “where I learned to be a big leaguer, and to get the tribute is great, and I appreciate that. And I just want to be able to give a hat tip to the fans here and say thank you as well.”
After the game, how was the experience of returning to Wrigley?
“It was definitely special,” Schwarber said after receiving a number or ovations, and after the Cubs played a tribute video celebrating his time in Chicago.
“I feel like that I just wanted to go out — my time here, I just wanted to go out there and play as hard as I can and you know I don’t feel like I was anything special, anything like that, but for them to go ahead and do that it was really nice, and it meant a lot. And definitely a little nerves there in that first at bat, but very nice of them, and thank you to the fans and to the organization there for doing that.”
Also this happened: