Boise Hawks' Kyle Schwarber defying expectations

Boise Hawks catcher Kyle Schwarber has had to prove himself at each level of play.

tphibbs@idahostatesman.comJune 13, 2014 

At a young age, coaches positioned Kyle Schwarber behind home plate to enhance his activity during games. He struggled to focus in his adolescence, which required him to take medication to subdue his ADHD.

"I couldn't concentrate," Schwarber said. "I'd be picking grass out in the outfield."

Maturation overtook medication, allowing Schwarber to self-teach himself how to hit by emulating older players around his hometown in southwest Ohio. Yet his powerful swing went unnoticed. Undrafted out of high school, collegiate suitors recruited Schwarber — the football player.

But baseball was his "first love," so he continued to work toward his dream. In 2009, he watched Indiana win the Big Ten Tournament.

"I wanted to be a part of it," he said.

Eventually, Schwarber's hitting instructor persuaded Indiana coach Tracy Smith to watch him play.

"I hit three home runs in the game, and the rest was history," Schwarber said.

He subsequently led Indiana to two more Big Ten titles and its first College World Series appearance in 29 years in 2013, finishing his career with 40 home runs and 149 RBIs.

"I like the challenge," Schwarber said. "I like to see myself mentally tough and trying to prove things wrong."

Scouts raved about his hitting abilities, an ambiguous interpretation considering his football-esque frame — broad shoulders, thick neck, compact torso — and his linebacking past. However, this time, they were interested in Schwarber — the baseball player.

Schwarber became the highest-drafted Hoosier ever selected in the MLB Draft when he was picked No. 4 overall by the Chicago Cubs, and immediately his childhood allegiances switched from red to blue.

"(I) grew up right by Cincinnati, but I'm going to be a Cubs fan from now on," he quipped.

It marked the first Indiana player chosen in the top-10 since shortstop Jim DeNeff was drafted eighth in 1966.

"I knew there was a chance," said Schwarber, who defied expectations again after being predicted to be selected in the teens. "I had a pretty good feeling it could happen going into the draft the day before."

Not wanting to engage in financial battles and delay his professional career, Schwarber signed for $3.125 million on Wednesday, nearly $1.5 million below the allotted slot value for the No. 4 pick. Chicago may use the leftover money to sign other draftees.

"We wanted to get it rolling and start getting some at-bats," Schwarber said. "After the draft, I think two days after I went to Chicago, I got my physical done and got to go watch a game. We made plans for me to give me a day at home and fly out (to Boise) the next day."

Boise Hawks skipper Gary Van Tol instantly recognized Schwarber's power at the plate.

"He'll be a guy who will hit in the middle of the order for us; definitely brings that offensive presence to the lineup," said Van Tol, whose team opens at Memorial Stadium against Tri-City at 7:15 p.m. Friday. "People are going to notice right away."

Following his second practice with the Hawks on Thursday, Schwarber finally found time to relax. He loaded his post-practice plate with two burgers, potato chips and baked beans in an attempt to recharge from a week of excitement, contracts and travel. But before he could exhale, two young admirers presented baseballs for his autograph, which he gladly provided.

Schwarber hasn't lost himself in the hoopla. He remembers hours of practice in the field, shagging balls for his family to pitch him time and time again. He hasn't forgot what it took for an opportunity to achieve his dream.

"I remember when I was that kid and I wanted some autographs," he said. "You've got to keep a level-head and you can't think you're better than anything. You've got to remember where you came from. I came from a small town and I worked for everything.

"That's what I believe in."

Trevor Phibbs: 377-6424; Twitter: @IDS_Phibbs

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