'Dream' series continues as local product Jason Kipnis homers in Indians' win over Cubs

'Dream' series continues as local product Jason Kipnis homers in Indians' win over Cubs

One of Jason Kipnis’ most conflicted friends, a diehard Cubs fan, couldn’t help but celebrate his buddy’s big October triumph on Saturday night.

Shortly after the conclusion of Game 4, a contest Kipnis put out of reach with a piercing, late three-run homer, the second baseman’s childhood pal attempted to disrupt his postgame interview by repeatedly yelling “Kip, you’re a legend.”

A Glenbrook North High School product, Kipnis said the interaction perfectly encapsulates what has been an overwhelmingly positive response from family and friends as he battles the team he once rooted for in his first World Series appearance. Courtesy of Kipnis’ blast and a stellar outing by Corey Kluber, the Cleveland Indians are only one win away from a title after they downed the Cubs 7-2 in front of 41,706 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs and Indians play Game 5 at 7:08 p.m. on Sunday night.

“That’s one of my best friends,” Kipnis said. “That guy’s an idiot. That tells you what kind of friends I’ve got. They’ve been here the whole time and they’re making it that more fun and easier for me.

“You can't draw this up. Everyone makes that situation -- T-ball or whiffle ball in the backyard -- and I just got to live it. You can imagine what kind of high I'm feeling right now.”

You can’t imagine how conflicted Sean Wallis must feel right now.

He has season tickets down the right-field line and considers himself a huge Cubs fan. The company he works for is affiliated with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.

But Wallis — the senior point guard for Glenbrook North’s 2005 state championship varsity basketball team — has played sports with Kipnis since they were 8. He’s followed his career from high school to Arizona State to the minor leagues, where he also once disrupted a postgame interview at Triple-A Columbus.

This is a scenario none of Kipnis nor his friends and family could ever have imagined. Yet here it is playing out in front of all of them at Wrigley Field as the Cubs make their first World Series appearance since 1945. And on Saturday, Kipnis made his biggest contribution of the postseason, going 3-for-5 with a double, two runs and three RBIs.

“It’s crazy,” Wallis said. “It’s unbelievable.”

“No one ever could have imagined this happening. We joked about it during the course of the year -- Who would you root for in a Cubs-Indians World Series? But no one ever imagined this type of outcome.”

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Earlier in the week, Kipnis talked at length about his love of all things Cubs. His favorite players were Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa. He doesn’t think his former neighbor, Steve Bartman, deserves any of the flack he’s received from Cubs fans all these years. And he can’t believe that his first foray into the World Series is up against the Cubs’ first appearance in the Fall Classic in 71 years.

But Kipnis said he had “zero conflict” extending the Cubs’ World Series title drought another year. Even though that victory might crush the dreams of his friends and family, Kipnis said nobody has given him any grief.

“To be put into a situation like this and actually have something happen like that is, for lack of a better term, it's a dream come true,” Kipnis said.

It’s a pretty cool moment for his friends, too.

Just ask Wallis.

His team could be headed home for yet another disappointing winter. But it might sting just a little less if it involves his friend.

“No matter what was going to happen it was going to be an enjoyable series,” Wallis said. “If the Indians are going to win, I wouldn’t have it any other way that it’s him that is hitting the big homer and getting the double in the first inning.

“It’s incredible. For him to play in a World Series is unbelievable. But for him to get to do it here and play as well as he has is remarkable.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.