The Chicago Cubs hadn’t won a World Series in her lifetime, so 60-year-old Gloria Smith from Forest Park wanted to meet her World Series hero.
Smith showed up at noon Tuesday to have her picture taken with Middletown native Kyle Schwarber, a designated hitter for the Cubs, who beat the Cleveland Indians in a thrilling seven-game World Series.
Smith arrived four hours before the event started.
Needless to say, she was first in line.
“I wasn’t missing it for anything,” said Smith, who fell in love with the Cubs when she lived in Illinois before moving to Middletown, then Forest Park. “The Cubs won.”
She called living to see a Cubs World Series “God like.”
Smith wasn’t alone in her enthusiasm.
Ever since the Cubs drafted Schwarber, 23, a 2011 Middletown High School graduate, many local baseball fans have adopted the Cubs as their favorite team. And after the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, Schwarber became their favorite player.
More than 100 people, many wearing Cubs jerseys, stood in line at the Pendleton Art Center waiting for an opportunity to meet Schwarber. He met with fans for more than one hour.
Earlier in the day, he told a packed auditorium at his MHS that the foundation for his big league success was forged here.
“I was a freshman here in 2008 and graduated in 2011. That’s the time you want to figure out what sort of person you want to be,” Schwarber told more than 400 juniors and seniors during an event honoring him.
“In high school I took that first step of really maturing. I surrounded myself with a bunch of people I thought would make me a better person as I go along,” he said, pointing out his teachers and coaches.
Schwarber didn’t dwell on his baseball or World Series experiences but rather told the teens what his youth in Middletown helped him understand.
“There are three things you are going to face in life that are going to help you out. You are going to have success, then adversity and then failure.”
He told the crowd of his first-year success in professional baseball and how going into last spring training he was prepared to be a major part of the Cubs team only to “tear up my knee” the third game of the season.
Doctors told Schwarber he’d miss the year, but he rehabbed his knee and stayed involved with the team.
“And I’m going to cry about it or am I going to do something about it?” he asked.
“This isn’t just a baseball thing, these are things that can help you out going into being an adult,” he said. “Set a goal but realize you are going to have success, you are going to have failure and you will adversity before you have success again. Don’t be afraid, embrace it and face it head on.”
His short speech ended with applause as he uttered “once a Middie always a Middie.”
Middletown High School Principal Carmela Cotter praised Schwarber as “an inspiration to the school and city.”
“He is exactly that person that you saw in that (Cubs) dugout motivating teammates and being part of that positive spirit that makes him a winner,” she said. “Our students need confidence-building, and there is no person better to build confidence than someone who has been in their shoes. Someone who relates to that and then is able to lift them up into another world and make them see that dreams can come true.”
At the press conference, Schwarber, wearing a gray and purple Middletown Middies football sweatshirt and Cubs World Series hat and his trademark goatee, talked about being raised in Middletown, the son of a police chief.
“Growing up in this town isn’t easy living,” he said. “People work for what they get out here. You definitely have to work for what you get.”
He said his father, Greg Schwarber, the former police chief, frequently drove him to practice and they spent countless hours in the police station.
There, Schwarber said, the other officers treated him “no different than my dad.”
He also was asked about Middletown producing two champions in the same year: A World Series winner and Kayla Harrison, who won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics in judo.
Schwarber called Harrison’s repeat of her 2012 gold medal “another level” then added: “That’s on a stage that everyone watches. This town speaks a lot for itself. We have a lot of great athletes coming out of here. And we have a lot of good people coming out of here, too.”
His family and friends often told him throughout the World Series that he had a large rooting section back home, he said.
“It was good knowing that I was giving some energy to the community,” he said.
Now, Schwarber said, he’s looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with his extended family, then heading to Arizona for more rehabilitation on his knee, then returning to Middletown for Christmas.