Kyle Schwarber will be wearing Indiana University red when he steps into the national spotlight this weekend. But he still bleeds purple.
“That’s right, baby,” the Middletown High School graduate said. “I just can’t be more happy to be from Middletown.”
Schwarber and his Hoosier baseball teammates are headed for the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., opening against Louisville on Saturday night at TD Ameritrade Park.
Indiana has never been there before, so it’s an electric time for the program.
“I’ve watched it on TV growing up,” Schwarber said Tuesday during a media session at Bart Kaufman Field, IU’s new baseball facility. “It’s just been a dream, and it’s starting to become a reality.”
It’s been an explosive year for the 6-foot, 235-pound sophomore catcher. He’s been punishing the ball all season.
Schwarber is hitting .376 with 54 RBIs, ranking third in the Big Ten in both categories. He leads the conference in slugging percentage (.674), on-base percentage (.468), runs scored (63), total bases (149), walks (42) and home runs (18). The No. 2 guy in homers is his teammate, first baseman Sam Travis, with 10.
Schwarber earned spots on watch lists for the Golden Spikes Award (nation’s top amateur player) and the Johnny Bench Award (nation’s top Division I catcher).
“He was one of the better players in the country coming into the year, and I think he’s proven that,” said Indiana coach Tracy Smith, who coached at Miami before coming to Bloomington. “I’m elated that he’s going to get to show it even more on the national stage.
“He’s kind of a well-kept secret. It’s always funny with the venues we play in or some of the coaches we face from some of the Southern conferences. They’re like, ‘Who’s that guy? Where did you get that guy?’ I tell them, ‘My wife’s old stomping grounds.’ As surprised as everybody is, we’re not surprised at all. We knew he was that good last year.”
Schwarber said the watch-list recognition is “cool,” but not necessarily important. “You don’t want to get your mind caught up in it,” he said. “Those are things that can make good players into selfish players. I want to be the best team player out there.”
Schwarber hits the ball scary hard. He did it at Middletown. He still does it at Indiana.
“He’s hit some balls this year that you really just don’t see in college baseball,” said Ben Greenspan, who coaches IU’s catchers. “He hit one against Nebraska on the Big Ten Network that (Nebraska coach) Darin Erstad had a comment on. He said if you miss with fastball location to Kyle, he hits it 900 feet.”
And guys are still trying to get out of the way of Schwarber lasers in the infield, just like during his days in the Greater Miami Conference.
“You don’t want to criticize your own guys,” Greenspan said. “But when we’re taking pregame batting practice, I don’t blame them for trying to (avoid) some of those one-hoppers that Kyle hits to second base.”
Schwarber credits the Hoosiers’ strong lineup for his success. He sees it as a pick-your-poison situation for pitchers. Having Travis behind him in the order helps Schwarber get more pitches to hit.
What also helps Schwarber is his mentality at the plate. When he has a bat in his hands, he simply expects to do damage.
“My mind-set up there is that I’m better than that pitcher,” Schwarber said. “I always feel like I’m going to get one pitch to hit. If I’m just thinking about one pitch and I get that, I feel like I have a very good chance of getting the barrel on it and hitting it hard somewhere.”
Former Hoosier Alex Dickerson was the Big Ten Triple Crown winner in 2010 and was named Florida State League player of the year in 2012. Greenspan watched Schwarber hit last season and felt he would be even better than Dickerson.
Batting second — with right fielder Will Nolden in front of him — Schwarber was 3 for 6 with four RBIs and four runs in two NCAA Super Regional victories at Florida State last weekend.
“It’s a crazy lineup,” Schwarber said. “It’s just hard to pitch around our lineup right now. That’s why I’m really locked into my at-bat and focused on my one pitch.”
He’s known for his offense, but Schwarber has steadily stepped up his game behind the plate. He’s become very comfortable managing the pitching staff during games.
Greenspan said the Super Regional was a perfect example of Schwarber’s maturation as a catcher.
“Florida State was a very, very hostile environment, and he showed how he’s really managing the position so much better this year,” Greenspan said. “The No. 1 thing I would say he needs to work on is his receiving. He’s improved his throwing technique, but that still needs to be a little more consistent.”
There is baseball outside of Bloomington that he’s contemplating while preparing for the College World Series.
No. 1, Schwarber has been selected to play for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team this summer. Team USA will travel to Japan in July, then will return home to face Cuba and some summer league all-star squads.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that I’m going to be able to wear the stars and stripes and represent my country,” said Schwarber, who will report to Cary, N.C., to train with the team once Indiana’s season is over.
Is it a bigger deal than the CWS? “It’s an awesome opportunity for me, but no,” Schwarber said. “When you’re a college player, Omaha is what you think about all the time.”
No. 2 is the 2014 amateur baseball draft. Schwarber didn’t get drafted out of high school after suffering an arm injury as a senior, but he figures to be a high pick next year. At least one publication has said he’s a can’t-miss first-rounder.
Major league rules state that college players must have completed their junior or senior year or be at least 21 years old to be eligible for the draft.
“I see that as a blessing right now,” Schwarber said of not being drafted out of MHS. “The scouts wanted me to have more time to go to college and develop, and I have no regrets coming here. This is what I want to be doing. I envisioned us going to Omaha and doing bigger things.
“Baseball is what I want to do for my career. I don’t want to play it for the money. I want to play it for the right reasons. If the draft comes around next year and I don’t hear the news I want to hear, I’ll be more than happy to come back here and play my senior season.”
Asked why Schwarber is such a hot prospect, Smith said, “His bat’s going to be the ticket for him in the big leagues. He’s got some work to do defensively, but if you can’t hit, you’re not going to play in the big leagues. And he can hit.”
Greenspan said it will be hard to pass up the kind of money Schwarber is likely to be offered a year from now.
“I selfishly hate it because I wish the kid could stay forever, but I think he’s going to be a very, very good pro,” Greenspan said. “I can’t speak to the quality of the person enough. He’s very coachable. He’s very well-liked by his teammates. He’s charismatic. He’s what you want.”