Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber is participating in an ad campaign for Sheraton Hotels, a partner of the team and MLB, which promotes the theme “Go Beyond.” In the case of Kyle and the other athletes who took part, they talk about someone in their life who was “beyond influential.” In Kyle’s case it was his high school football coach growing up in Middletown, Ohio, Jason Krause. Here’s the video produced with Schwarber and Krause, recorded during spring training in Mesa, Arizona:
I was fortunate to be part of a small group of media invited to watch this video Wednesday morning and then have some time to talk to Kyle (over breakfast, thank you Sheraton for that!).
Kyle talked about growing up in a “very diverse high school” where kids came from all different kinds of backgrounds and athletic ability and he talked about how Krause “made every kid feel equal, special” and said it taught him a lot about being a leader. To this day, Kyle says, coach Krause will still stay in touch with him and text him when things might not be going so well for him.
In terms of things happening more recently, his time with the Cubs, Kyle talked a bit about how things went for him while he was injured last year. He mentioned that when he saw his teammates and others, he would rather have them talk about other things, get his mind off things because one of the things he learned in high school was “mental toughness.” and “approaching it with a positive mindset every day.” He did mention that as much as he liked “hitting people” playing football, baseball was always his No. 1 sport and though he considered playing both sports at Indiana University, the workload would have been too great between the sports and schoolwork, so he chose to focus on baseball because “I knew baseball was what I wanted to do,” even though he says “there’s nothing like a Friday night high-school football game under the lights.”
From our standpoint, we’re all grateful that Kyle chose baseball!
Asked about catching the other night for the first time in a regular-season game since 2015, Kyle said, “I got a little taste of it and it was good. I was really excited about that. I know it’s mostly going to be left field but whenever the time does come when they call my name to catch, I’ll catch.”
About his personal goals for 2017, Kyle said he just wants “to be a team player and be a leader. If you’re being a good team guy, that’s when things are going to happen.” He continued, “I like being aggressive. I’d rather make an aggressive mistake, be aggressive on the basepaths, if I do that good things will happen.”
He compared being a full-time player this year with going through his rehab last year, saying “no one treats me any different,” and that last year, “my teammates pushed me” and he gave his teammates a lot of credit for getting to the World Series and “then letting me be a part of it and ride their coattails. They’re the ones who got there, then they accepted me, didn’t treat me any differently.” He noted that the new clubhouse and the rehab facility at Wrigley was a big part of that, feeling part of the team, because otherwise he’d have had to spend last summer in Arizona.
He expressed, as have so many of his teammates, the excitement of winning for fans in the city of Chicago “who wanted it so bad for 108 years.” It really does seem to me that the players get it, how much winning meant to every person associated with the Cubs, from players to executives to other employees to gameday workers to fans and families. Kyle said, “We take pride in that. We know what we did, and we want to do it again. We’re not just satisfied with what we did this past year. We want more.”
As I did when I spoke to Kris Bryant, I asked Kyle how it felt in the 10th inning of Game 7 when the Cubs were on the cusp of winning. His response was very similar to Bryant’s:
You have all these different thoughts in your head. Some negative thoughts, because I’m always thinking of the worst possible thing, for some reason, especially when I’m out of the game and I can’t do anything about it anymore. I think, “Oh, no, this guy’s going to hit a homer and walk it off,” I was thinking, “C’mon, Monty,” — that’s just how I get when I’m out of the game. When I’m in the game I’m fine, but once I come out it’s all about winning. When I saw that ground ball to Kris, I tensed up thinking he’s going to slip and sail it and when Rizzo catches it it’s just a great big sigh of relief and then it’s: “All right, let’s go party!”
He was asked “as a former choir member” how he felt about David Ross on Dancing With The Stars, and without hesitation he said, “I told him if he needs any help to just give me a phone call,” and marveled at how fans reacted to seeing Ross’ dance moves on the Wrigley video boards. Then I asked him about how Ross was as his teammate and fellow catcher.
He wanted the best possible thing for each player. That’s why he pushed people, and we all miss him for that. He’s not afraid to call someone out on doing something wrong, but he’s also not afraid to have fun as well as take care of business. That’s why we all love him so much. He knew every single player, what made them click, he paid attention to that, and that’s why he was such a good leader for us. He paid attention to the game as well as paying attention to the person; he cared about every single individual on the team.
Kyle said he’s very much looking forward to reading Ross’ book when it’s officially out next week. (Here’s a link to the review I wrote last week if you missed it.) Just hearing Kyle say those kinds of things about Ross tell me how deeply respected he is and how good a coach or manager he’ll make someday. Kyle also said, “I think every baseball player should write a book, because there are always interesting stories along the way,” although he noted he’s not quite ready to do one himself. (“I might write my own little notes down and keep them to myself.”)
He mentioned the meeting he had with Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod when they had invited him to the Cubs’ complex in Mesa before he was drafted. After batting practice they were talking baseball:
I felt like it was going good. We had the same beliefs, agreeing on the same terms about baseball, and then they asked me a question about catching, which was the big thing for me, whether I was going to catch or not. I got really upset and I said a few choice words, and then I thought I blew it. But I guess they loved it. I was telling them how I felt, and they wanted to hear that, they wanted to hear that someone was not going to back down and just because someone says that they can’t, doesn’t mean that they can’t. That’s what I go by. You can’t tell me I can’t do something — I try my hardest to do it and if I can’t, well then I tip my cap, I can’t. But I’m going to try my hardest, 100 percent every time.
I think that says a lot about Cubs management, looking for players with this kind of attitude, and it surely speaks volumes about Kyle’s desire and the hard work he’s put in so far in his major-league career.
Thanks to Kyle for his time and honest answers and many thanks to Shawn Brain of Sheraton and Annie Worthington and Adrianna Lauricella of Alison Brod Marketing & Communications for all their assistance.