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Cubs Teammates Helped Kyle Schwarber Exceed Expectations in 2016 Comeback

The baseball comeback story of 2016 was fueled in a two-pronged manner: Kyle Schwarber’s refusal to set a ceiling on his recovery, and true teamwork by his fellow Cubs.

“It could have been easy to write me off,” Schwarber said. “Go down to Arizona, go rehab, be away from the team, whatever. These guys wanted me up in Chicago, to be around the team, to learn more about the game. These guys made sure I came in with the right mindset.”

Schwarber, the Cubs’ 23-year-old left fielder, was knocked out of the 2016 regular season before he could finish his second game. With two torn ligaments in his left knee following an outfield collision on April 7 in Phoenix, Schwarber was told he would not swing a bat again in the majors until the 2017 season.

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But there he was in October, playing in five Fall Classic games (four as a DH), reaching base in exactly half his 20 plate appearances, with seven hits and two RBIs. All after only four official at-bats of tune-up in the Arizona Fall League.

And the Cubs likely don’t have their first World Series title in 108 years without Schwarber’s surprising, inspiring return.

During his long recovery process, Schwarber learned a crucial lesson about himself and his determination level that he hopes can inspire others as well.

“For me to be able to work my way back, I think anything’s possible,” Schwarber said. “Don’t let people tell you (that) you can’t do anything.”

Just before his rehabbed knee was cleared for full duty in spring training, Schwarber talked about his startling rehab process that stunned sports-medicine experts across the country.

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After colliding with center fielder Dexter Fowler and fully tearing his anterior and lateral cruciate ligaments, he was projected out six to nine months, including the full 2016 season. Schwarber instead took his first hacks on Oct. 25, 2016, as a DH in Cleveland’s Progressive Field. He hardly looked rusty even against tough lefties like the Indians’ Andrew Miller.

Schwarber credited “the support system I had from my teammates to the coaches to the manager to the front office to my family and my girlfriend, things like that. It was a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and these guys wanted to keep me in Chicago. I’m grateful for that. If I didn’t (stay in Chicago), I don’t think I’d have the opportunity to come back.”

A new, spacious belowground clubhouse, constructed outside Wrigley Field itself, had state-of-the-art training facilities opening the 2016 season. In the past, Schwarber would have had to rehab off-site and travel to the Cubs’ spring-training base in Mesa, Ariz. He would have been away from his teammates and not been able to continue to grow as a player just being around live MLB games.

Schwarber said he doesn’t think he could have pulled off the comeback in the team’s old facilities.

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“I’d have been mentally away from the team (in Arizona),” he said. “That’s the part where I put a lot of time in learning the game mentally, and taking a step back just watching. I think I gained a lot in the game of baseball mentally.”

Limping to the plate on crutches, Schwarber was introduced to the capacity home opener crowd at Wrigley Field. He was with his teammates in uniform for most home games. The concept of a team extended to those who could not play, but still could gain in baseball savvy just by their presence.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “it all goes back to my teammates wanting me to be in Chicago.”

One of his biggest rooters was backup catcher David Ross, in the middle of a farewell tour in his final season at 39.

“We’d walk in every day, 2 p.m. for a night game,” Ross said. “Schwarbs would be drenched in sweat in the weight room, grinding out his rehab with the guys. I said, ‘Hey, man, we need you back.’

“He busted his tail the entire time. A credit to him. You guys don’t know how hard it is to come in, in that environment, and work a walk against Andrew Miller, to have the (World Series) at-bats he had. It was absolutely mind-blowing. This guy is a natural-born hitter.”

From GameChanger and George Castle.

Photos of (top) Kyle Schwarber with Dave Cihla and the latter's Schwarb-O-Meter sign, displayed during the World Series and indicating his statistics in the same manner as Cihla's 1989-vintage Shawon-O-Meter for Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston; (bottom) Schwarber between Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg (left) and former Cubs catcher David Ross (right) at a recent event in Urbana, Ill.

Baseball, Baseball Features, Baseball Player Development

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