CLEVELAND — It no longer defies imagination, but assaults the senses, wondering how sheer and utter fantasy could become reality.
How in the world could a baseball player spend six months just learning to walk again after a devastating knee injury, not playing in a single game, and lead the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series victory since 1945, with a 5-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians, evening the Series at 1-game apiece?
"It’s the 'Legend of Kyle Schwarber,' " catcher David Ross said.
And the way this narrative is playing out, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant predicts, it will soon be coming to a movie theater near you.
"I can’t even describe what he’s doing right now," said left fielder Ben Zobrist, who’s hitting .625 this series and is like a back-drop to center stage. "No one’s ever seen anything like it."
There has never been a position player in baseball history whose first hit of the season was in the World Series until Schwarber came along. He doubled off Cleveland ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, and then went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a walk in Wednesday’s victory.
"He better not take one single swing in the offseason," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.
Indeed, the dude is making a total mockery out of spring training, let alone rehab assignments.
This is a guy who had no hits in four at-bats in April before he blew out his left knee. He had one hit in eight at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. Now, on baseball’s greatest stage, he is hitting .429, reaching base five times in nine at-bats, with a double, two singles and two RBI.
If he keeps this up, and Schwarber leads the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908, there will be generations of Schwarbers who will never have to pay for a drink or adult beverage in their lifetimes in the city of Chicago.
"If we win three more," Rizzo said, "he doesn’t have to take another swing in his life. Take your time, and enjoy your life."
Considering that Schwarber has all of four months of baseball experience on his bubble-gum card, and is baseball’s ultimate gym rat, there’s a better chance of him conducting hitting lessons when he’s 80 than ever giving up this gig.
"He’s just a dirt bag," Rizzo said. "He’s always around the field. He’s always watching baseball. Always watching film. Sometimes, too much.
"When he was on the DL, he’s there watching film, studying scouting reports, and I would yell at him, 'What are you doing? What are you doing?' "
Who realized all along that Schwarber was secretly plotting his comeback?
"Baseball’s a crazy game," Schwarber said. "It will do crazy things to you."
So crazy, that he went along with the Cubs’ narrative, that he would be out for the season. When you tear two knee ligaments, no one expects to see you until next season. If he had only sustained the injury earlier, maybe in spring training, he’d have a chance, but not during the season.
And even if he was physically able to return before the end of the season, there would be no time for a minor-league rehab assignment, no time to get down his timing, no time to see major-league pitching.
"That’s why we’re calling it 'The Legend of Kyle Schwarber,' " Ross said. "That’s who does this. It just blows my mind what he’s doing. He’s doing things that are unheard of."
Yet, on baseball’s biggest stage, in front of millions on national TV, Schwarber is turning the World Series into his own reality TV show.
Watch Schwarber become the Cubs’ first DH in World Series history. Watch Schwarber hit. Watch Schwarber run. Watch Schwarber drive in two runs.
Oh, and if you need to tug at the heartstrings too, watch Schwarber become emotional talking about his 10-year-old friend, Campbell Faulkner of Cave Creek, Ariz.
Faulkner, diagnosed with a rare form of mitochondrial disease, has a team of 13 doctors. He struggles to stand and walk for extended periods of time. He needs two feeding tubes in his stomach just to provide him with nutrition. He missed nearly 100 days of school last year because of his illness and doctor appointments.
Schwarber met him in spring training and saw him last weekend before meeting the Cubs in the World Series. Faulkner is his friend, and Schwarber wears a bright green wristband in his honor to make those aware of the disease.
"Really young, smart kid, and he’s just always got a big smile on his face," Schwarber said. "You know, that draws your attention to him. He’s living life to his fullest, even though he’s got something to overcome.
"He’s just a good kid. How could you not like him?"
It’s all part of the legend of Schwarber, the 23-year-old who became the Cubs’ all-time postseason home run leader last year by hitting five homers in just 27 at-bats, and now is doing what no one can possibly believe they’re seeing.
"For a guy to be able to do something like this," winning pitcher Jake Arrieta said. "is just ... I’m kind of speechless."
In the words of Cleveland manager Terry Francona, who suffered his first World Series loss a manager in 10 games: "I can see why Theo (Epstein) sent a plane for him. I would too. That’s a lot to ask, but special players can do special things."
Epstein, president of the Cubs, was stunned when the six-month medical reports last week revealed Schwarber was a month ahead of schedule. Schwarber was so excited, he asked for permission to go to the Arizona Fall League, to see how he looked. He played two games, did all the agility drills, ran the bases, slid, and with Epstein watching the video of him on his computer, took the gamble. He sent a private plane for him Monday, and on Tuesday, was in the starting lineup batting fifth.
Now, the question an inquiring, starving, championship-drought fan base wants to know: Could the Cubs dare put him in the field this weekend against the Indians? They are going back to National League rules. There will be no DH at Wrigley Field. Can he possibly play the field when he hasn’t played the outfield since tearing two knee ligaments on April 7?
"He may be catching for all we know," Rizzo said.
Well, it’s safe to say he won’t be catching until next spring, but considering the way he’s running the bases every time he’s aboard, there’s a certain manager who will be pushing for the cause.
"I'm waiting to hear from our guys from our medical side," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "because obviously he looks good. He looks good at the plate. Running the bases, he looks pretty good so far.
"There's nothing about watching him that tells me that he's inhibited right now.
"He’s a different cat, he absolutely is."
It’s one thing if there had been the scintilla of discussion that Schwarber could possibly be ready for the playoffs, even privately among the Cubs’ front office. Or even if Schwarber had told a few teammates that this was his secret plan all along. But nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Sure, there were times during the season when Schwarber would tease his teammates, saying he’d be back for that day-night doubleheader in August against the Milwaukee Brewers, and everyone would laugh. It was a running joke all season. The laughter stopped when Rizzo was having dinner with strength coach Tim Buss before Game 3 of the NLCS in Los Angeles.
"I said, 'What?' " Rizzo said. " 'Seriously? For real?' I couldn’t believe it."
The Cubs still can’t.
"I just took it day by day," Schwarber said. "There were days I just wasn’t feeling it. My teammates picked me up and I had some guys come over and say to me, 'World Series, you’re coming back.’ I’d just laugh it off.
"Then, when it came to reality, it was a shock."
Imagine how the rest of us feel.
"The Legend of Kyle Schwarber," Ross slowly said again.
Stay tuned. The sequel is Friday, the first World Series night game in Wrigley Field history.
"They are going to go nuts," Ross said.