Cubs

Local product and former fan Jason Kipnis has 'zero conflict' extending Cubs' World Series title drought

Local product and former fan Jason Kipnis has 'zero conflict' extending Cubs' World Series title drought

CLEVELAND — His first loves were Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa. He believes Steve Bartman is totally innocent. And he’s ecstatic to see the Cubs in the World Series because of what it means to his family and friends.

But don’t mistake any of the Cubs nostalgia that Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is feeling for weakness. When the 112th World Series kicks off between the Cubs and Indians on Tuesday night, the Northbrook native has no issue extending the North Siders’ misery one more year.

“Let me reiterate — there’s zero conflict at all,” Kipnis said at media day on Monday at Progressive Field. “It was like, ‘Why do I have to beat the Cubs?’ Not ‘Why does this have to be versus the Cubs?’ There’s not one part of me that (wants the curse to end). Let’s be clear on that.”

What isn’t quite as certain is Kipnis’ status for Game 1, which starts at 7:08 p.m. CST. The veteran sustained a freak ankle injury — “it wasn’t exactly a mild sprain,” he said — during a victory celebration on Wednesday after the Indians wrapped up their first American League pennant since 1997. Kipnis said the swelling in his ankle has reduced and he’s hopeful to be ready to play “on the biggest stage in front of everyone I know.”

Already pleased with his own accomplishments, Kipnis, 29, said he was overcome with emotion on Saturday night as he read the social media posts of friends and family after the Cubs wrapped up their first trip to the Fall Classic since 1945. Kipnis’ love for the Cubs started early with Sandberg and Grace and flourished with the epic 1998 home run chase between Sosa and Mark McGwire.

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A neighbor of Bartman’s, Kipnis hopes the Cubs reunite with one of the most infamous fans in baseball history now that the club has returned to the World Series after a 71-year absence. Kipnis recalls how the incident made Bartman the talk of the town and how it also required a police presence outside his home in case an overzealous fan took things a little too far.

“He never asked for all the stuff that probably happened to him afterwards,” Kipnis said. “I don’t think he deserved any of that. He’s actually probably a very loyal fan and wanted a foul ball and it was just the way the events turned that turned him into a scapegoat.

“I would love it to see if he threw out a first pitch. Probably everyone would go nuts.”

Despite their love of the Cubs, Kipnis said loved ones refuse to put him in awkward spot. He knows how deep their attachments are and yet Kipnis has never felt any animosity — even if he wants to extend the drought one more year.

“It’s just what I grew up around and it’s just going to be fun,” Kipnis said. “It shouldn’t be a conflict, shouldn’t be nerve-wracking at all. It’s really just one of those professional perfect storms that kind of comes to a player’s opportunity where you get to play in front of everyone you know.

“They’re like, ‘There’s no question who we’re rooting for.’ That means a lot to me.”

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

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."