- Kyle Schwarber's rise to stardom, return from catastrophic injury and emergence as a team leader can all be traced back to a scout who Schwarber swears to play for every day.
It was a warm afternoon in Chicago last July, and Theo Epstein was pissed. The Cubs’ president of baseball operations stormed out of his office, across Waveland Avenue, through Wrigley Field’s concourse and into the team’s new subterranean clubhouse. With his cell phone hot in his pocket after scrolling through the latest round of baseball rumors on Twitter, he headed directly to the source of his ire, who was where he had spent most of the season: on a training table, his left knee encased in bags of ice, sweat from yet another excruciating rehab session dripping from his steel-wool goatee.
Epstein let him have it. “There’s no way we trade you, all right?” he told Kyle Schwarber, who at 23 had participated in a total of 80 major league games, none of them recent. “You got hurt as a Cub. You’re rehabbing as a Cub. You’re going to come back and drop a homer on someone on Opening Day next year as a Cub. You’re a huge part of this team. You’re coming back. Just wanted to tell you that.”
Schwarber let his boss’s words sink in. Dozens of uncertain futures fell away. “Phew,” he said. “Good. Thanks!”
Despite himself, Schwarber had bought into the rumors, and not just for the conventional wisdom that suggested because of his perceived deficiencies as a catcher and leftfielder, he was destined to wind up in the American League as a designated hitter. Schwarber believed he could play both positions well, and he knew the Cubs believed the same.
The problem was his knee. He had shredded it in an outfield collision with Dexter Fowler in the third game of the season, and the timeline of his rehab didn’t match the Cubs’ aspirations of ending 108 years of cursed misery as soon as possible—a goal that would require adding an ace reliever. The worst part, the part that gnawed at Schwarber, was that he knew dealing him made perfect sense.
“If I was a GM, I would probably have traded me,” he says. “You’re on the brink of history, and if you could get a plus piece—Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller—for a guy who can’t play? I was like, Man, I might be toast here.”
Brian Cashman of the Yankees had indeed dangled Chapman or Miller. The Royals’ Dayton Moore mentioned Wade Davis. But Epstein had stopped those conversations before they had really begun. He would end up acquiring Chapman—not for Schwarber, but for a package headed by top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres.
“It’s real easy to throw baseless stuff out there to get clicks, and it sucks for him to have to see that,” says Epstein. “He’s not some guy we picked up on the waiver wire.”
Just three months later, a few hours before the first pitch of Game 1 of the World Series, Epstein stood behind the backstop at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, surrounded by reporters who wanted to hear about the surprising player Epstein had just reactivated: Kyle Schwarber.
This time Epstein spoke in quiet and measured tones. “I think he’ll have a moment where he’ll do something special,” he said of a player who hadn’t taken a big league swing since early April, and who had somehow forced his knee to heal months faster than even the most optimistic prognosis.
Eight nights after that, Schwarber ripped his seventh hit in 17 Series at bats—a stinging single to right leading off the top of the 10th in Game 7, sparking the title-clinching rally that generations of Chicagoans thought would never come. It wasn’t just something special. It ensured Schwarber’s status as a legend in the Windy City. It also prompted a question about Epstein, who cemented his position as the best baseball executive of his era. When he drafted Schwarber far higher than any other team would have; when he refused to part with Schwarber; when he guaranteed that Schwarber would do something memorable in the World Series: How did Theo Epstein know?
The first time Schwarber met Epstein, the player was certain he’d blown it. It was February 2014, and Schwarber’s college team, Indiana—which he had led to its first Big Ten title in 54 years—was in Surprise, Ariz., to play a tournament. The Cubs had just opened a new spring training facility in Mesa, and after another losing season they controlled the fourth pick in the June draft. “Out of the goodness of our hearts, we volunteered to let Indiana hit here,” Epstein deadpans.
Schwarber didn’t hit much of anything. “A terrible BP,” says Epstein. “He was rolling over, mishitting balls.” Even so, Epstein invited Schwarber up to his office for a 45-minute meeting that included scouting director Jason McLeod. Schwarber was nervous. “Everyone knows who Theo Epstein is,” he says. “He’s the god of baseball, of turning things around.” The conversation went well enough until Epstein asked him if he’d be able to catch in the majors; scouts had begun to criticize his skills behind the plate. Schwarber’s reply: “It really f------ pisses me off when people say I can’t catch.”
Schwarber caught his breath. He had just deployed an f-bomb in a job interview with the god of baseball, who was now looking back at him stone-faced.
At least there were 29 other teams.
After the meeting, though, Epstein provided a review to Hoosiers coach Tracy Smith. “He’s in my top two I’ve ever talked to, in terms of personality,” he said. “The other was Dustin Pedroia.” Schwarber’s response to the catching question had helped clinch it. “He cursed—neither here nor there,” explains Epstein. “But he showed real strong conviction, belief in himself and in his ability to handle anything you could throw at him.”
What Schwarber didn’t know was that Epstein’s interest in him had piqued long before that meeting—at 2:22 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2013, to be precise. Hours earlier Epstein’s former club, the Red Sox, had won Game 3 of the ALCS. Led by lefthanded slugger David Ortiz, they had the look of a champion.
So did the collegiate player whose videotaped swing the Red Sox’ success compelled Epstein to stay up late watching, in the guest room of his Chicago house so as not to wake his wife. As he studied the footage, he fired off an email to McLeod, GM Jed Hoyer and three other members of his front office, in which he mentioned Ortiz and two of Chicago’s earlier first-rounders, infielder Javier Báez and third baseman Kris Bryant. The subject line read schwarber.
“I’m making a call right now that Schwarber is going to be our pick and put up Big Papi numbers [in] LF for us for a decade. Off video, this guy has one of the shortest LH swings I’ve ever seen, and the power speaks for itself ... Let’s stick this dude right between Javy and Bryant and call it a day.”
The email was impulsive, but Epstein had been emboldened by input from his secret weapon: Stan Zielinski, the Cubs scout who covered the Midwest. “I love him,” Zielinski would whisper in the background of the videos of Schwarber he recorded for his bosses. “I love him.”
Zielinski grew up outside Chicago and played ball at St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minn. He worked at a country club before he found his life’s passion at 27, in 1979, when the White Sox hired him as a scout. He went on to work for the Expos and the Marlins before joining the Cubs in 2001. While Zielinski earned success and respect for signing future stars like outfielder Cliff Floyd and pitcher Jeff Samardzija, he always turned down front-office promotions. He didn’t want to be the executive who approved players‚ he wanted to be the scout who dug deep and discovered qualities that no one else saw.
The job was grueling. Zielinski put 50,000 miles a year on his Toyota Camry covering his territory, which stretched from Minnesota to Tennessee. He was only really home with Holly, whom he married in 1983, and their kids, Zachary and Anna, for November, December and some of January. He could find every Marriott in the Midwest without a map, and sometimes they put his name on the marquee if they knew he was coming. He’d send Holly and the kids on vacations with his loyalty points. He could never go. His booming voice belied his humility; he never let Holly send out the family Christmas letter without editing down the paragraph about himself.
In Kyle Schwarber, Zielinski believed he’d found the type of player that some scouts never do. He pulled clips of Schwarber’s swings and those of Babe Ruth, and called Holly and the kids over to his laptop. “Don’t you see it?” he asked his family, his fist zealously clenched. “Don’t you guys see it?”
Everyone in pro ball knew he could hit: Over his final two years at Indiana he batted .362 with 32 homers in 120 games. The problem was where he’d play. Schwarber was built square, at 6 feet and 240 pounds, and, given the concerns about his defense, he didn’t seem to fit at any position. Since he wasn’t a base stealer either, he appeared to have only his bat to recommend him. He looked like a late first-rounder, at best.
Zielinski didn’t think so. In a scouting report filed on May 4, 2014—one filled with the enthusiastic capitalizations for which he was known—he compared Schwarber not only to John Wayne, for his toughness, but also to another American hero: “Squint your eyes and imagine a grainy film of Babe Ruth hitting a ball in the stands, I swear I saw that reenacted today as the ball flew out over the 2nd fence in RF. He really loves to play. He can work out inconsistencies with his mechanics behind the plate with teaching. He’ll be a ML Catcher.”
Zielinski’s conclusion: “I believed today. He has the Best College bat I’ve seen in a long time, and remember I’m old so I’ve seen a lot of them ... squint again and you can see him Call His Shot and point to CF Bleachers in Wrigley Field.”
Still, on the day before the draft, some in the Cubs’ draft room remained unpersuaded. So Epstein called up Zielinski, put him on speaker-phone and asked him to tell the executives what he knew about Schwarber that the rest of baseball did not. Scouts famously have their own lingo. To be convicted means to believe in a player so deeply that you might put your own career on the line for him. To pound the table means that you’re willing to endorse a player without reservations. There was no mistaking it, as Zielinski’s voice boomed from the speaker: He was convicted, and he pounded.
He would never say it, but Zielinski saw a lot of himself in Schwarber. Both were Midwesterners and embodied the values that are still associated with the region, even as the great manufacturers have scaled back or shut down, leaving yawning voids. Schwarber grew up in Middletown, Ohio, a steel town 45 minutes north of Cincinnati whose population has declined along with its shrinking mill. As jobs moved out, dissolution moved in. So did heroin. Last September the city of 49,000 had at least 30 overdoses in a single week. It’s one development J.D. Vance explores in Hillbilly Elegy, his recent best-selling memoir, which is largely set in Middletown.
Schwarber hasn’t read Hillbilly Elegy. He is passionate about military history—if not for baseball he would have followed older sister Lindsey into the armed forces after Middletown High—but he concedes he’s not particularly literary. At Indiana he majored in recreational sports management. “Like Parks and Rec!” he says, referring to the NBC sitcom. One of his classes was bowling. He did well.
“He’s not going to go into macro-economics and get an A,” says Kyle Hart, a pitcher in the Red Sox’ system who played travel ball with Schwarber, then roomed with him at college in Bloomington. “But when you get on the baseball field, that kid might as well be Albert Einstein.” That was the kid Zielinski got to know, the one he described for a roomful of his bosses in Chicago. He also knew that Schwarber’s gift wasn’t just for hitting. Zielinski felt Schwarber had a genius for social dynamics—an unusual mixture of deep intensity and guileless good nature that would play well in clubhouses across an endless baseball summer.
Schwarber is the youngest of four children, with three older sisters. His mother, Donna, is a registered nurse. His father, Greg, was the placekicker for four years at Dayton and received an invitation to Giants training camp in 1976. Greg beat out 10 rival kickers but not the other three, and he returned to Middletown to become a cop. Three decades later, in 2008, he took over as the police chief of what had developed into a very different city. What Kyle hadn’t learned from his sisters about operating in a group of older peers, he picked up at the police station, which was his second home. Sometimes he’d spend his afternoons hiding in boxes, helping to train the department’s German shepherds. He finished his homework while the officers did their paperwork. He worked out with them.
Schwarber was the nucleus of every group he belonged to in high school. He played middle linebacker. Before Middletown faced Hart’s high school, Sycamore, Hart told a friend, “This kid’s about to destroy us.” Schwarber finished with 23 tackles. On one fourth-and-goal at the two, he hit a running back so hard that he flipped him head over heels.
It was an impressive shot for someone who also starred in Middletown High’s show choir, which was called Purple Pizzazz.
At Indiana, which Schwarber chose over Cincinnati and Miami of Ohio, “he was the best player on the baseball team,” says Epstein, who watched around 10 of his college games in person. “But whatever the opposite of isolating himself is, that’s what he did. Guys were literally bouncing off of him in the dugout.”
Epstein had been an analytics pioneer as the wunderkind GM who broke the Red Sox’ curse in 2004, but a decade later every front office had guys who understood numbers. Epstein was looking for a different sort of competitive advantage—for players with the character not only to exceed numerical projections but also to be pillars of a successful organization. And who could crush baseballs, too. On speakerphone Zielinski convinced Chicago’s brass that Schwarber was such a player. “When Stan Zielinski believes in someone,” Epstein says, “you listen.”
The Astros, who had the draft’s first pick in 2014, had identified their top six players; they wound up going Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7. The player who went fourth was at a Middletown golf club for a draft party his parents had put together. Schwarber had been told he wouldn’t last past the Reds, at 19th. Then commissioner Bud Selig announced the Cubs’ choice.
“Now, this is a surprise,” said the commentators on MLB Network.
“No!” shouted Stan Zielinski back at the TV, his fist clenched as he watched at home with Holly and the kids. “No, it isn’t.”
Less than a week later Schwarber signed his $3.1 million contract and was in Epstein’s box at Wrigley. The Cubs still weren’t much to watch—they would finish 16 games under .500 in 2014—but Schwarber didn’t care. “I just cannot wait to help this team win,” Schwarber told Epstein. “You don’t understand. I’m going to do everything in my power, everything I can to help this team win. I’m going to be a part of the team that wins it all.”
“He was like a caged animal,” says Epstein, but Schwarber wasn’t that way for long. A .333 batting average with 34 homers in just 147 games allowed him to escape the minors after one calendar year. The night before his major league debut, on June 15, 2015, he received an eccentrically capitalized text.
8:51 p.m. So HAPPY for you !!! My God . . . you deserved it. Have a blast . . . literally and figuratively.
9:33 a.m. Thanks Stan I really do appreciate it and thanks for everything you have done for me.
9:36 a.m. Deep breaths . . . Slow everything down and Enjoy. All the Best. I know your phone is probably blowing up so I won’t bother you anymore. Just wanted to say how proud I am of you as a player and more importantly a person.
Like most draft prospects in the Midwest, Schwarber looked forward to his meetings with Zielinski. He appreciated that the scout didn’t just ask about his parents’ professions to fill out a form but that he wanted to get to know everything about them—and that he was funny. But it was after the draft that they really became close. Schwarber knew that Zielinski was the biggest reason he was a Cub, and Zielinski had a lot riding on Schwarber’s performance. More than that, they just connected, their shared backgrounds and world views erasing a 40-year gap. They talked once a month and texted often. “He was thinking about retiring, and he said being able to watch me play was able to give him a new life in scouting, a breath of fresh air,” Schwarber says. “I’m not trying to feel myself. It’s just something he told me, and I took it very personally.”
It wasn’t long before Schwarber—with his beer drinker’s physique, easy bonhomie, distinctive facial hair and knack for crushing baseballs—earned a fan base that expanded far beyond the members of Chicago’s front office. He hit 16 home runs in 69 games as a rookie and then five more in nine postseason games, playing mostly in leftfield. The ball from one of them, a solo shot in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cardinals, landed on top of the rightfield video board at Wrigley; the Cubs would install a plexiglass case around the ball. “Mercy,” said TBS announcer Joe Simpson. “What in the world?”
The dream continued right up until April 7 of last year. That was when Jean Segura drove a pitch deep toward the gap in left center at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, midway between Schwarber and Fowler. “I was booking to it, and so was he,” Schwarber recalls. “We didn’t say anything, because you’re only going to call it if you can get to it. As soon as I extend my hand to try to catch the ball, Dexter slammed right into me, low. I knew something was hurting, but I’m like, Where’s the ball?”
That night his knee became grotesquely swollen. He texted a photo of it to his longtime girlfriend, Paige Hartman. “As soon as I saw it, I was like, It’s his ACL,” says Hartman, whose older sister had torn both of hers playing soccer. “I didn’t want to say it to him.”
She was right. As the next day’s scan revealed, Schwarber had also torn his LCL. He wanted to deliver the news himself to a few key teammates, including Fowler, Anthony Rizzo and David Ross, in the visiting manager’s office in Arizona. That’s when he started weeping. “I wasn’t crying because I was hurt,” he says. “I was crying because I wanted to play, for my teammates. I knew how special we were going to be.”
Ross, the veteran catcher, cut him off. “You stop crying!” he yelled, a hand on Schwarber’s shoulder. “Don’t you feel sorry for yourself. You’re still a part of this!”
Schwarber wiped his eyes. “O.K., they want me here,” he told himself. “So how am I going to contribute?”
In the weeks after being operated on by Daniel Cooper, the Dallas Cowboys’ team surgeon, Schwarber couldn’t do much. He lived for his teammates and for competition, and without them he was like a plant deprived of water. He sat in a recliner in his Chicago apartment for 20 hours a day, binge-watching MLB Network and shows like The Blacklist, Criminal Minds and Narcos. He rewatched all of the Lord of the Rings movies, and all of the Harry Potters. A series of family members came to help him with even his most basic of needs. They were worried. “I could see him spiraling down, physically and mentally,” Greg says. “He’d pull the curtains. He didn’t want the daylight in.”
Hartman, whom he started dating after she transferred to Middletown High for their senior year and who worked as a stylist at a Sport Clips near Cincinnati, traveled to Chicago to care for him. “He couldn’t walk, so I had to pick his clothes out for him,” she says. “He did not like depending on other people to do things for him. At all.”
Seven weeks after surgery Schwarber could limp into the Wrigley clubhouse. “He didn’t show his pain to us,” says Bryant. “Props to him for doing that. He has that personality that lights up a room.” Schwarber threw himself into his rehab, but he also wrote extensive reports on opponents and learned how to analyze pitchers with a new depth. Epstein allowed him to sit in the draft room and evaluate players the Cubs were considering selecting. It benefited the team and Schwarber himself in equal measure.
Before every home game, manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber stomp on his lineup card as a way of keeping him involved. “Just remember, spring training’s right around the corner,” Maddon would say. “Temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement. Don’t go nuts.”
So his surgeon’s message during a checkup in Dallas on Oct. 17—while the Cubs were traveling to Los Angeles for Game 3 of the NLCS—was shocking. “He released me!” Schwarber told his father.
“What’s that mean?”
“I don’t know!”
Schwarber immediately flew to L.A., arriving at 9 p.m. At 10:15, in a secret session in the batting cage at Dodgers Stadium, he took his first swing in 6 1⁄2 months. “Oh, it was beautiful,” he says. “It was like I didn’t lose it at all. Right off the tee, and I hit the back of the net, right on a line.”
He mapped out a plan with Epstein and Maddon. Schwarber traveled to Mesa, where he took a few hundred BP cuts and tracked 1,300 more pitches in the cage, just with his eyes. He played in two Arizona Fall League games. He couldn’t play defense—his knee was only 85% healed—but the AL’s home field advantage in the World Series meant that he could start as many as four games at DH. He and the Cubs’ brass agreed that if Schwarber looked capable after the second AFL game, he would immediately board a charter flight for either Cleveland or Toronto on Oct. 24, the night before Game 1.
On the evening of Oct. 24, just before he departed for Cleveland, his phone buzzed.
5:47 p.m. Hope it Happens Kyle! Lord knows you’ve worked your Ass off.
5:48 p.m. Thanks Stan. Just grateful they gave me the opportunity to try. Let’s see if it happens tomorrow.
5:49 p.m. Pray it Does!
Epstein didn’t need to pray. “Everything this kid has ever set his mind to or said he would do on behalf of his organization, he’s done,” he says. “The more time you spend around Kyle, the more you believe in him.”
He was locked in from the start. In Game 1, Schwarber doubled off Indians ace Corey Kluber, and he drew a walk from Miller—a feat that just one other lefthanded hitter had accomplished all season long.
In the end Schwarber failed to make good on his word just once in the Series. It was after Chicago had overcome a three-games-to-one deficit to force Game 7, only to blow a three-run lead in the bottom of the eighth. During a 17-minute rain delay before the 10th, the visitors’ clubhouse was tense. “Guys were crying, dude,” Schwarber says. His eyes were dry, and he vibrated with anticipation. He was due to lead off against righthanded reliever Bryan Shaw. After all Schwarber’s studying, he knew what Shaw was going to throw, and he told Ross what he was going to do with it.
“This guy’s got a good cutter,” Schwarber said. “I’m gonna back off the plate. I’m gonna make inside my middle. And I’m gonna hit a homer.”
He didn’t. Shaw’s pitch did cut inside, but just a shade lower than Schwarber had anticipated. He rifled it to right. As he ran to first, he pounded his chest and pointed to his dugout. Nobody there seemed to hold the single against him. “I didn’t hit a homer,” Schwarber says, “but I smoked it.” Minutes later Albert Almora—who had come up through the minors with Schwarber, had bass-fished in the rain with him in Tennessee and now pinch-ran for him—scored the go-ahead run in what would be an 8–7 win.
For Zielinski, watching at home, it was the moment that justified those 9 1⁄2 months he spent away from his family every year. The player on whom he’d staked his professional reputation had—in essentially a two-week break from rehabbing a catastrophic knee injury—become a 23-year-old folk hero. Zielinski knew how hard it must have been. The years had taken their toll on his own 64-year-old joints; he was soon to go in for a total knee replacement. In late December, not long before his surgery, he phoned Schwarber, this time to ask him for advice.
“You’re going to have to show up and grind,” Schwarber told him. “You’re not going to like it. You’re going to hate it for a few weeks or months, but then it’s going to get easier.” Keep your head up, Schwarber added. Call me after the surgery.
Like many baseball players, Schwarber loves golf. Like most, he’s not particularly good at it. He hits his driver a long way, of course, but he tends to spray it. He can’t putt; finesse is not his thing. His iron play, however, is beautiful. That much was clear one day in late January at the Top Golf driving range in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he and Hartman took a break from his continuing rehab.
It was the week of the Waste Management Open, and Rickie Fowler, the eighth-ranked golfer in the world, happened to be doing a promotional appearance at Top Golf. Fowler wanted to meet Schwarber.
“I’m sure you could crush a baseball with your golf swing!” Schwarber said, admiringly.
“Uh, I’m O.K,” Fowler replied. “I got to take batting practice at Fenway once. Hit a couple off the wall.” When they parted, Schwarber wished Fowler the best thing he could wish for anyone. “Keep crushin’ balls!” he said. “Keep crushin’ ’em!”
This winter, Schwarber high-fived Jimmy Fallon, had his goatee yanked by Kelly Ripa and returned to Middletown High to speak at an assembly that he concluded by promising, “Once a Middie, always a Middie.” Mostly, though, he was focused on his knee—which, as Opening Day approached, was just short of 100%—and his fielding. He thinks of himself as a catcher, even though the Cubs appear to have found their long-term backstop in 24-year-old Willson Contreras. “Oh, I’m not stupid,” Schwarber says. “I know we have our catcher of the future in Willson. But I still feel like I have something to bring to the table, even if it’s once a week.”
The other six days he’ll be in left, where the Cubs already think he’s much better than commonly believed. Not long ago, after all, he was a middle linebacker with a command of angles and vectors and 4.7 speed in the 40. “He’s underrated as an outfielder because he f----- up two balls against the Mets in the NLCS in 2015,” says Epstein. “Everyone saw those plays, and now they think he’s some kind of bumbling idiot in the outfield. And he’s not.”
A trade, for Epstein, remains unimaginable: “It’s hard to think about the Cubs without thinking of him.”
That’s a big statement. There aren’t many people, in modern sports, who are indispensable to a team—in Chicago’s case, maybe only Epstein, Schwarber, a few other key stars and a handful of others whose work is mostly offstage, like Stan Zielinski.
Schwarber and Epstein are in place for the Cubs’ run this year. Zielinski is not.
After his knee surgery on Jan. 3, Zielinski stayed overnight in the hospital. He went home the next day. On the morning of Jan. 5, he didn’t wake up. One minute he was snoring next to Holly, and the next he wasn’t.
He was rushed back to the hospital, and was declared dead shortly after he arrived.
The call that Schwarber was waiting for from the man who had scouted him—to tell him how he was doing, to ask about his family, to remind him to keep his swing short—never came. Instead, Epstein phoned to deliver the news. Zielinski’s death may have been due to a blood clot, his family believes, although a definitive autopsy finding has yet to be released.
Schwarber’s career is only beginning. He’s still played barely 100 big league games. But he promises that Zielinski will stay with him long after he retires. “He’s someone I want to keep in my mind daily,” says Schwarber. “I want to make sure I don’t let that guy down.”
“Kyle’s playing for Stan, knowing how much he believed in him,” says Holly Zielinski. The rest of the Cubs are playing for her husband too, if less directly. Epstein identified the values he thought would return the club to greatness, and Schwarber had them, but Zielinski recognized them—they were his own. “Without Stan we certainly would not have won the World Series,” Epstein said in a statement he issued immediately after Zielinski’s death. If it sounded to some like hyperbole, to Epstein it was just plain fact. This summer the Cubs are sending their newest scouting intern to evaluate players in the Cape Cod League: 22-year-old Zach Zielinski.
At Top Golf, Schwarber lined up a 5-iron. He paused for a moment. Then he proceeded to do the best thing he could to continue to honor not just Stan Zielinski but also his family, the cops and the kids back in Middletown, his teammates and Theo Epstein, too. He drew back his club. He kept his eyes on the ball. And he crushed it.