Kyle Schwarber is the toast of Chicago. After tearing his ACL and LCL during the second game of the 2016 season, Schwarber missed 170 while rehabbing himself all the way back to the World Series. Schwarber rejoined the team in Game 1 and went 7-for-17 against the Indians, as the Cubs won their first World Series since 1908.
"It's been super cool to see the way the fans react whenever you see someone," Schwarber said Thursday on ThePostGame Podcast. "It's like you can't walk down the street anymore without someone recognizing you. I think that speaks to the fans in Chicago. It's one of the best sports cities in all of sports."
Sports fan are good at having short-term memory. Even in Chicago, it is easy to forget just how close the Cubs were to parting with Schwarber. Or, at least just how close it appeared the Cubs were to dealing Schwarber.
Before the trade deadline, Schwarber's name was tossed around as a potential piece to help bring a reliever to the North Side. Schwarber could only watch from a distance, but he recalls the moment Cubs President Theo Epstein calmed his nerves.
"I guess when you're hurt you get the luxury of reading everything," Schwarber says. "You see all this stuff and you get these thoughts in your head and it's hard to avoid it. You're like, man is this really gonna happen? Am I really gonna be going to New York or wherever it is? And I remember Theo came up to me at one point and he said Schwarbs, 'We're not gonna trade you. I've been reading everything in the media with the media crushing [you] with all the questions.' He just wanted to put it out there to me and I have a lot of respect for that because it means a lot for a guy who's hurt and not contributing to the team out in the field and for them to believe in me like that, it's something that I hold truly."
The trade deadline came and went, and Schwarber kept training. Between Games 2 and 3 of the NLCS, Schwarber got news that he was cleared to play. He caught up with the team for a short time in Los Angeles before heading to the Arizona Fall League.
"The best part was, once I got that news, I was in Dallas, and they had the workout in LA," he remembers. "They got done and I got the news, so I flew into LA late at night and I started taking hacks I think at 10:30 at night, so I stayed for all of Game 3 and the next day, I left before Game 4. And people were like, 'Where'd Schwarbs go?' I told some people what was going on. I got texts. I remember when we clinched the NLCS and I got a FaceTime from [David] Rossy and [Anthony] Rizzo and they were just saying all right, let's get it going now. It was super cool just to see the way that those guys played throughout the whole year and for them accepting me coming back for the World Series, I couldn't ask for anything better."
Schwarber says that even if he wins more rings with the Cubs, this first one will probably have "a little bit more significance," based on the circumstances.
"My goal was to kick rehab's butt," he says. "I wanted to tackle this head on. I think I didn't realize how hard it was gonna be. There's a lot of people who've had it worse than I had. I think it was a big step in my young career. I just wanted to attack it. That's just the way I'm wired. I kept getting told winter ball, winter ball, winter ball. Actually, spring training at first. Then, we worked our way to winter ball. Then World Series or playoffs, nothing was a question."
Schwarber spoke to ThePostGame at Super Bowl radio row in Houston on behalf of ATI Physical Therapy, the official physical therapy partner of the Cubs, It worked with Schwarber throughout his rehab from April to October. Schwarber got back in the gym with ATI after the World Series, as he continued to rehab his knee.
Here's more of our conversation with Schwarber:
ThePostGame: Could you play the field today?
KYLE SCHWARBER: Yes.
TPG: You could play the outfield.
TPG: Could you catch?
SCHWARBER: (Laughs). That's a coin flip right now. I've got to have a meeting with my doctor.
TPG: But left field?
SCHWARBER: Left field, we're good. But I'm sure that I'll have to get the full examination done on the knee and get his full opinion about everything, about playing the field, but I think everything will go according to plan.
TPG: How about David Ross staying with the Cubs as a special assistant?
SCHWARBER: What a good dude, man. I'll tell you that. David Ross, what a phenomenal career he had, born leader. The guy we all looked up to. He's going to have a long future in baseball and we're excited to have him back. He said he's gonna show up in khakis, a polo, visor with glasses, some aviators and have the clipboard taking down notes. He's bossman now. We get to put up with the David Ross act for a little bit more, but we're all very, very excited to have him back. We still got his parking spot out in spring training. We've got the Daddy Ross there.
TPG: If you walked into Sluggers or The Cubby Bear tonight, what would happen?
SCHWARBER: I'm sure that I would have maybe some free drinks. I think it would be nonstop pictures. Maybe we get in the cage at Sluggers, take some hacks. It would be cool, man.
TPG: Have you ever been in the Sluggers batting cage?
SCHWARBER: Oh yeah.
TPG: Was this before you were a Chicago Cub?
SCHWARBER: Oh no. When I was a Chicago Cub. We've had a few guys rent out the place and just for some celebrations and stuff like that. That's a cool spot, just to be able to hop in the cage and not make contact (Laughs).
TPG: So Cubs fans haven't seen you in the cage there?
SCHWARBER: No. no.
TPG: You got to try that out.
SCHWARBER: I know, right? Just show up there, try to incognito it, start hitting tanks. 'Who's this try-hard in the cage?'
TPG: Lou Malnati's or Giordano's?
SCHWARBER: Giordano's. I'm a Giordano's guy.
TPG: Wow. Without hesitation.
SCHWARBER: I know. I like Lou Malnati's too, but my girlfriend, she's not a big fan of I guess the slab of sausage. But I like the slab of sausage. I would rank them evenly, but say we eat Giordano's more.