Kipnis can't wait to play for his hometown Cubs
Like many other kids in his Northbrook neighborhood, Jason Kipnis grew up with big dreams.
He imagined suiting up for his favorite major league team -- the Cubs -- and showing out on baseball's biggest stage.
"I always dreamed of playing in the World Series at Wrigley Field," Kipnis said. "Full count, two outs. I always thought it was going to be the bottom of the ninth (inning), but it's the top of the ninth now."
After prepping at Glenbrook North High School and playing college baseball at Kentucky and Arizona State, Kipnis' dream moved closer to becoming a reality.
He was available in the 2009 draft, and the Cleveland Indians grabbed the second baseman on the second round (No. 63 overall).
The Cubs drafted outfielder Brett Jackson on the first round in '09, a regrettable pick. Kipnis was off the board when the Cubs' second-round pick came up.
Instead of playing for his hometown team, Kipnis settled in with the Indians and became an impact player.
He was a two-time All-Star, and Kipnis played in 24 postseason games for Cleveland.
Seven of those games came against the Cubs. In 2016. In the World Series.
That's when he realized his childhood dream, even if he came to the plate in the top of the inning rather than the bottom.
In Game 4 of the World Series, Kipnis hit a 3-run homer in the seventh to seal the Indians' 7-2 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Up 3-1 at that point, the Indians were a win away from claiming their first World Series championship since 1948.
The Cubs dug deep and won Game 5 at Wrigley. The series moved back to Cleveland and the Cubs won the final two games as well, ending a 108-year championship drought.
Kipnis did all he could to help the Indians' cause, hitting 2 homers and driving in 4 runs during the World Series.
It wasn't enough.
Flash-forward to February, and it was a curious sight in Mesa, Ariz.
After playing his ninth, and final, season with Cleveland last year, Kipnis hit the free-agent market and attracted interest from multiple teams, including the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and Royals.
The 33-year-old infielder considered all of his options and decided the best move was coming home. Kipnis signed with the Cubs.
Walking into the Cubs' clubhouse for the first time during the early days of spring training, Kipnis had some understandable emotions.
As expected, the 2016 World Series quickly came up during his first talk with reporters.
"I'm trying to look and see how many 2016 things are around this place that I'm just going to be staring at," Kipnis said with a laugh. "But you know what? It's fun. It was four years ago. The page has been turned a while ago."
The page might have turned, but Kipnis' move from the Indians to the Cubs is still a newsworthy topic in Cleveland.
In late May, an Indians fan took to social media to address the departure, posting: "Crazy that Jason Kipnis, our leader for so many years, is going to play for the team that caused him the most sadness he has ever felt in baseball. Not mad. Just surprised."
Kipnis replied: "Truth be told, it's an (expletive) at times. My first reaction when someone says "Go Cubs" is still a clenched fist and to tell them where they can go. But playing for a hometown team is a lot of players' first dream as a kid so I gotta imagine it's worth it to not pass up!"
Even in an abbreviated season this year, Kipnis is looking forward to starting a new chapter with the Cubs.
Before baseball was halted by the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, Kipnis was competing with Nico Hoerner, David Bote and Daniel Descalso for the starting job at second base.
"He's got a great resume," Cubs manager David Ross said. "I'm a fan from playing against him and seeing him on the other side. It's exciting to get veteran big leaguers that have been in big situations, put up good numbers."
For Kipnis, it would be extra exciting to play his home games at Wrigley Field.
After hearing from family and friends before deciding where to sign, the decision to join the Cubs was rather easy.
"They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, take whatever, just get here," said Kipnis, who batted .261 with 123 home runs and 529 in 1,121 career games with Cleveland. "Very selfish. But it made sense, it really did. I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up, and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life, and how many people, friends and family, still live in Chicago. It's going to be exciting."