Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Swing That Convinced Theo Epstein To Draft Kyle Schwarber No. 4 Overall

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It was May 13, 2014, and Indiana University’s Kyle Schwarber, now a barrel-chested junior, joined his teammates for batting practice in Louisville’s Jim Patterson Stadium. As legend has it, it was at this very moment his coach, Tracy Smith, decided to give his catcher a little added incentive going into that night’s contest.

“You know A.J. Reed hit a home run off the batter’s eye in center field one time,” said Smith.

That was all he needed to say. As the saying goes, don’t poke the bear.

A.J. Reed was a star at the University of Kentucky and considered to be one of the best two-way players in college baseball. As a junior in 2014, Reed hit .336/.476/.735 and led the nation in home runs with 23. As a pitcher he was 12–2 with a 2.09 ERA and 71 strikeouts.

You know damn well Schwarber was very familiar with Reed and his long list of accomplishments.

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There was only choice for Schwarber, he had to one up Reed.

According to ESPN’s Hallie Grossman, as the game wore on, Louisville had thwarted Schwarber’s attempts to put his power on display and having gone 0-4 up until that point, the rumors began to swirl. The one and only Theo Epstein was in attendance.

“No way he’s here,” said Kyle’s fellow Hoosier Kyle Hart. But yes, insisted the club’s resident Chicago sports fan, Luke Harrison, “that’s definitely him.”

Indeed it was. There, just behind home plate, donning a black baseball hat, sat the Cubs President of Baseball Operations.

While Indiana defeated Louisville, 7-2, at Patterson Stadium that Tuesday night. After the game, you didn’t need a pitching coach or a Baseball Tonight analyst to tell you what really happened.

You actually needed an engineer.

With the Hoosiers clinging to a 4-2 lead in the top of the ninth, Schwarber, failing to give the fans what they wanted in his first couple at-bats, strolled to the plate. The future first-round pick, working on a 2-and-1 count, absolutely destroyed one.

Fans, teammates and more importantly Epstein sat in awe, looking for somebody who could possibly measure the distance and then accurately calculate just how far Schwarber hit his three-run home run.

According to WDRB, the distance painted at the top of the center-field wall is 402 feet. The dark batter’s eye wall in center extends at least another 40 feet above the eight-foot barrier. The baseball cleared the batter’s eye by perhaps 15 feet, soaring majestically toward the train tracks that wind beyond the centerfield fence.

Image result for jim patterson stadium
The dark batter’s eye can be seen deep in the distance of Jim Patterson Field. (Via U of L Card Game)

450 feet?

“I have no idea,” Schwarber said.

More than 450?

“Absolutely,” said IU outfielder Will Nolden. “Hands down. That ball was crushed. I don’t know if it’s landed yet.”

Do I hear 475?

“Honestly?” IU coach Tracy Smith said.

Yes, sir.

“Easily,” Smith said. “It’s four (hundred) to (the wall) so that’s not an exaggeration.”

HERE IT IS….

Here is the safest thing to say: Schwarber hit the baseball farther than a college baseball player is supposed to be able to hit a ball since the NCAA mandated less lively bats four years prior. It was his 10th home run of the season and 36th of his career.

Shortly after Schwarber finished making his way around the bases, Theo Epstein rose and left the ballpark. He had seen all he needed to see that night.

“I speculate to this day,” Hart says: “Was that the swing that got Kyle Schwarber drafted No. 4?”

Theo would never admit it, but chances are yes, yes it was.

A left-handed hitter, the home run came against Louisville pitcher Cole Sturgeon, who throws left handed.

Sturgeon started the sequence with a split-finger fastball. It was low. He followed with strike one and threw another pitch outside. Schwarber was looking for a high fastball. Schwarber got a high fastball.

BYE BALL.

 

“He probably thought I was looking for that splitter,” Schwarber said. “I was just looking for a ball to be elevated.”

The rest is history, literally.

 

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