CHICAGO -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was clear about one thing during the first few days of the World Series: He’s not conflicted. Not in the least. The Chicago native -- and big-time Cubs fan -- would like nothing more than to extend the Cubs' championship drought a little bit longer.
“I started in the [Ryne] Sandberg, [Mark] Grace era,” Kipnis said before departing for Chicago and Friday night's Game 3. “I was around high school watching [Sammy] Sosa. In 1998 it was, ‘Get to the television and watch him.’ ... I was a fan.”
“There’s not one part of me that doesn’t wish this curse keeps going,” he said with a laugh.
Kipnis is loyal to the Indians, of course, but where he grew up and went to high school was all Cubs country. Kipnis and I went to the same high school, though I was there several years before Kipnis came along and became the talk of the town as a standout player in several sports.
“He had the high school record for home runs and stolen bases, soccer goals on the freshman team and varsity touchdown receptions,” said Steve Zohn, one of his youth coaches.
Kipnis and I are from Northbrook, Illinois, which is 21.1 miles northwest of Wrigley Field. Almost everyone in the suburbs north of Chicago is a Cubs fan, but now some of his best friends and his family are torn. It's the first time someone close to them is in the World Series, and it’s against their team.
“It’s pretty special,” Kipnis said. “When you think of the benefit of it [for him]. I get to play on the biggest stage in front of everyone I know. It’s a cool opportunity not many people get to experience.”
Kipnis isn’t sure who people at his high school, Glenbrook North, are rooting for -- he hopes it’s the Indians -- but he’s looking forward to returning after the season is over. He doubts he can make it back home this weekend, as the demands of being in the World Series are big enough. His parents will take care of ticket requests, but most are “on their own.”
“Whether they’re wearing Kipnis jerseys or Cubs jerseys, it’s going to be fun for me to see them in the stands,” Kipnis said.
Kipnis was most passionate in talking about another Northbrook native, Steve Bartman. The infamous fan who reached over the railing and interfered with a foul ball in a key moment of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS hasn’t been heard from much since, but Kipnis remembers everything about the night and subsequent days of news coverage in his hometown.
“The only thing I’m mad at Bartman for is missing a fly ball,” Kipnis said of the fan often decried for ruining the Cubs' 2003 title hopes. “Every other fan was going for the ball. There is no blame on him and there never should have been.”
Kipnis even advocated for Bartman to throw out the first pitch this weekend, but there are no such plans for an event of that magnitude. The World Series already has enough drama, beginning with two franchises that haven’t won a title in decades. For the Indians, it’s been since 1948. For the Cubs, it’s been quite a bit longer -- 108 years.
“Theirs is the only drought that can make ours looks small,” Kipnis said. “It’s neat that one of them will come to an end here.”
Kipnis recalls the moment the Cubs clinched a World Series berth on Saturday, when they defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS. He didn’t know what to feel.
“All I was seeing on social media was Cubs posts,” Kipnis said. “You’re happy for all the friends and family back home rooting for the Cubs. I don’t know if I was happy, sad, mad -- but I was emotional. I was like, ‘Oh no, what does it mean right now?’ But it’s just excitement for both cities.”
Kipnis thinks it will hit him a bit harder when he steps onto Wrigley Field for the first time this series as a member of the opposition, trying to thwart the Cubs' hopes of breaking their long drought. He broke up Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter with a double in Game 2 after helping his Indians to a Game 1 victory the night before.
Kipnis is the enemy now, leading him to think there could be a change to the rec center he’s building at his high school.
“They might name it something else,” Kipnis said with a laugh.