Rick Heller can laugh about it now. But his experience trying to get Kyle Schwarber out during college never turned out well.
“The best way to pitch Schwarber is to walk him,” Iowa’s baseball coach said Thursday, the morning after Schwarber, 22, solidified cult-hero status with a towering home run in the Chicago Cubs’ 4-0 wild-card playoff win at Pittsburgh. “That’s what I found out in my three years. Anytime we had a plan, it didn’t seem to work.”
Heller’s teams – two at Indiana State, one at Iowa – faced Schwarber eight times during the left-hander’s three years at Indiana. He doesn’t remember facing a more formidable hitter in 29 years as a college head coach.
That was solidified on April 5, 2014, at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City, when Schwarber launched a homer that might’ve landed in North Liberty. He pelted a shot to straight-away center field off Calvin Mathews in a 6-3 Hoosiers win over Iowa.
“It went through the batter’s eye. It was about 30 feet high on a dead line,” Heller recalled. “You don’t see balls leave in our park in center field very often.”
Schwarber’s blast in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night landed in the Allegheny River and gave Chicago a 3-0 lead. It was a no-doubter that StatCast tracking technology said traveled 450 feet at a speed of 111.3 mph. That sounded familiar to Heller. One year at Indiana State, Heller had a left-hander who could throw 93 mph – so he figured he’d try busting Schwarber with heat on the inside corner.
“And Schwarber hit a mammoth bomb off the berm in right field (at Indiana),” Heller said, “and we’re like, ‘Well, that didn’t work real good.’”