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.
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.”