During the Indians’ recent four-game series against the White Sox, Jason Kipnis did not let his presence in Chicago go unnoticed. A Northbrook, Illinois, native, the second baseman’s homecoming was an enjoyable one for the Indians, as they swept the Sox and Kipnis was able to showcase his abilities in front of his hometown crowd.
I’ve often thought it must be hard for players to win on the road, when they don’t have the support of the stadium behind them following a victory; a victory is met with boos instead of cheers. However, when a player has an allegiance to a city on the road, winning can be equally as exciting as a home win – possibly because this road city is home.
A glance at Kipnis’ Twitter shows that he keeps his Chicago roots close to his heart. He’s an avid Blackhawks fan and, despite living in Cleveland during the season, shows that his heart remains in the Windy City.
“A nice Tribe win + Blackhawks victory! You know this guys happy!!” Kipnis tweeted on June 22, showing his love for both his favorite teams.
Therefore, the team’s road wins took on a completely different form for Kipnis. While it’s obviously nice to perform for a city that supports and has not only your back, but your team as a whole, playing for a crowd you connect with on a deeper and more personal level is equally as meaningful.
Maintaining a positive relationship with your hometown, even once you leave it to play a game that pits you against them, seems to be an attitude that serves players well. If Kipnis had turned his back on his hometown, blasting Chicago once he joined the Indians, hometown support would be minimal or nonexistent.
However, when he does things like tweet, “What a night for the Tribe!! Unreal games.. So happy to be goin to bed 2-0 tonight!!” right after a series of tweets and retweets about the city of Chicago celebrating the Stanley cup and how amazing it is to see Blackhawks shirts everywhere, Kipnis shows that he has room for both places in his heart. He has mastered the art of keeping his professional career separate from his personal affiliations.
“I have a little track record here. It’s always nice to hit and do well in front of friends and family,” Kipnis said in a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune following June 29 game in Chicago.
Maybe it’s that motivation, of knowing people in the stands, which has attributed to Kipnis being a .424 career hitter at Cellular Field.
Coming off what was already a red-hot June, Kipnis closed out the month with continued success. Throughout the series, he was 6-10 with five walks. He scored six runs as well as drove in six. He watched the ball well, knowing when to swing and when to let a ball pass him by. He didn’t chase pitches, which allowed for solid and worthwhile hits when it mattered, such as his two-run homer in the sixth inning that set the stage for the game-winning single hit by Nick Swisher.
After his game on Saturday, Kipnis has reached base in 32 consecutive games. His June average, .419, places him as second in the major leagues, and he has an OPS of 1.216 for the month. He is the 15th Indians player since 1921 to finish a calendar month with an over .400 average and an OPS about a 1.200; the most recent player to do so was Jim Thome in 1996.
Kipnis’ performance reminds me of Thome in more ways than just numbers. His playing time in Cleveland earned him a special place in Clevelander’s hearts, despite his career continuing with other clubs. However, I still remember fans welcoming him back to Progressive Field in a positive way during his time with the Orioles last season.
Although Kipnis has never played major league baseball in Chicago, the White Sox are the Indians division rivals, making a successful performance by a native Chicagoan against a Chicago team grounds for fans to be upset or feel negatively toward a player. However, Chicago did not seem to give Kipnis that reaction. Even White Sox manager Robin Ventura even admitted that it’s hard not to be impressed by Kipnis’ skills as a player.
Chicago RHP Dylan Axelrod, who gave up the two-run homer Kipnis hit on Saturday, told reporters that Kipnis is, “locked in. He’s at the top of his game right now.”
Perhaps, then, it was lucky for the White Sox that Kipnis was granted a much-deserved day off on Sunday. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Kipnis had told Terry Francona that he would play every game in the stretch through Saturday, and then would need two days off before he would be ready to go again in July.
Even without Kipnis on the field, the Indians still managed to sweep the White Sox for the first time since 1948. Kipnis earned his second career weekly honor in the month of June when he was named the American League Player of the Week for the period ending June 30.
Overall, Kipnis’ hometown visit served to propel him into the month of July. Ending the month as one of the league leaders, Kipnis’ strong numbers can only be made sweeter by the fact that he got to achieve success in front of people who share his ‘real’ home.
Maybe the only thing that would make his connection to Chicago even better? If those friends and family that Kipnis dazzled in Chicago add their votes to his ballot for the All-Star Game. With ever-rising numbers and support and acknowledgment from numerous national outlets, Kipnis may soon be more than just a star on the Indians roster and a hometown boy to Chicago; he could very well become a household name. He’s not burning bridges and making enemies in his career thus far, only proving that he’s a player fans should continue watching – no matter what city they call home.
Photo: David Banks/Getty Images