For­mer Glen­brook North Star fi­nally get­ting chance to en­joy Chicago dur­ing sum­mer

Chicago Sun-Times - - CUBS BEAT - BY STEVE GREENBERG sgreen­berg@sun­times.com @slgreen­berg

Maybe Ja­son Kip­nis isn’t the player he used to be. Could be the fact that it took sign­ing a mi­nor-league con­tract with the Cubs in Fe­bru­ary just to keep his ca­reer go­ing re­moves any doubt about it.

But the base­ball gods can take that “mi­nor” and shove it be­cause Kip­nis, 33, a two-time All­Star sec­ond base­man, is back. The Cubs added him to their 40-man ros­ter Fri­day. A few hours later, he was in the mid­dle of the in­field next to superstar short­stop Javy Baez for an in­trasquad scrim­mage. That’s his dou­ble-play part­ner now. This is his team now.

And Open­ing Day can’t get here soon enough.

“I get to play at Wrigley Field,” he said. In fact, the Cubs al­ways were Kip­nis’ team. Not many still need to be told that Kip­nis grew up a Cubs fan in North­brook — it was writ­ten ap­prox­i­mately 8.4 bil­lion times dur­ing the World Se­ries in 2016, when he played for the In­di­ans — but oc­ca­sion­ally it bears re­peat­ing.

Kip­nis is due to make $370,000 in pro­rated salary this sea­son, or merely 97.5% less than he made in 2019. Guess what? It’s all good. Did we men­tion he’s back? Back in the big leagues, of­fi­cially, and at the ball­park of his youth — 15 years af­ter he left Glen­brook North to chase his base­ball dream.

Fif­teen years is nearly half of Kip­nis’ life, by the way. A pan­demic made him wait a few months longer to play at Wrigley and cost him the chance to do it in front of a small army of fam­ily and friends in the stands. Again: not com­plain­ing.

“I get to see Chicago and ac­tu­ally walk around maybe a lit­tle bit when it’s warm out­side, in­stead of just liv­ing here dur­ing the win­ter months,” he said. “So I’m get­ting a lot of pos­i­tives out of this, re­gard­less of all the neg­a­tive stuff that’s go­ing on.”

It stung when the In­di­ans gave up on him. When teams didn’t line up to sign him as a free agent, that stung, too. Kip­nis didn’t see him­self as an “NRI,” as he put it: a non-ros­ter in­vi­tee to spring train­ing.

“I knew I was bet­ter than a lot of play­ers out there,” he said.

It hardly mat­ters now. He’ll prove the Cubs right or all those other teams wrong. Ei­ther way, it’s on him and it’s com­ing.

But look­ing around dur­ing a re­cent team meet­ing in the stands down the first-base line gave him a feel­ing. He walked the con­course, through the tun­nel and up the stairs to get there, like any fan would. Like he did so many times as a boy. “Flash­backs,” he said.

Doesn’t it sound de­light­ful?

And here’s how Kip­nis got him­self ready for this dur­ing base­ball’s coro­n­avirus shut­down. He found a place to live in Old Town. He bought a bi­cy­cle. He found a nearby track. He ped­aled along the lake­front and ran sprints and took long walks. He’d got­ten older, af­ter all.

“I lit­er­ally just tried to be more ac­tive, have an ac­tive day,” he said. “In years past, there might’ve been days I’d sit on the couch and be happy about it, watch movies all day long and call it a good day.”

He hit in the cages he’d pro­vided for the Glen­brook North base­ball pro­gram and played long toss in the mid­dle of a North­brook street with an old team­mate. He got hun­gry again.

“I’m a strong boy right now,” he said. “I’m go­ing to tell you that right now.”

He fell in love with Chicago, too. Rid­ing, run­ning, walk­ing, look­ing, notic­ing all sorts of lit­tle de­tails through new eyes. It’s funny how that hap­pens.

“Some­thing I’ve never been able to do,” he said. “I al­ways tell peo­ple Chicago is the best city in the U.S. dur­ing the sum­mer, but I re­al­ized I’d never ac­tu­ally been here for the sum­mer.

“But I stand by that state­ment. Just to be able to now get to ex­pe­ri­ence and en­joy all these lit­tle hid­den gems, and [to see] peo­ple in the parks and hav­ing pic­nics. They’re still so­cial-dis­tanc­ing, but they’re do­ing it the right way. Just a gor­geous city that I fi­nally get to ex­plore and see at its best.”

The player he used to be didn’t have all that. ✶




The Cubs added Ja­son Kip­nis, a two-time All-Star sec­ond base­man, to their 40-man ros­ter Fri­day.

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