CLEVELAND -- Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis grew up rooting for the Cubs in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook and even lived close enough to Steve Bartman to see police protecting the infamous fan's home in the fall of 2003. But he wanted to make it very clear how he felt Monday: He's not conflicted one iota about this World Series.
"You're happy for all the friends and family back home rooting for the Cubs and it's cool to see them here," Kipnis said Monday in Progressive Field. "I know the history. When they finally won, I didn't know how to really handle that. I couldn't tell if I was happy, sad, mad. I was emotional, just choked up thinking, 'Oh no, what does this mean?'
"But let me reiterate: There's zero conflict at all. It's 'Why do I have to go beat the Cubs' and not 'Why does it have to be the Cubs?' There's not one part of me that doesn't wish this curse keeps going. Let's be clear on that. It's what everyone grew up with. ... It shouldn't be a conflict. It shouldn't be nervewracking at all. It's one of those perfect storms you get to play in front of everyone you know."
Kipnis said he's looking forward to hearing cheers from his family and friends Friday night prior to Game Three at Wrigley Field, the first World Series game on the city's North Side in 71 years. And he's expecting plenty of boos from Cubs fans too.
"The Cubs have always been lovable losers but they're not anymore," Kipnis said. "They're a pretty darn good ballclub. They're strong in everything they do and there's a reason they're the other team we're facing. Very talented on both sides of the ball."
Kipnis said he grew up as a fan of former Cubs infield stars Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace, and followed almost every at-bat of Sammy Sosa's 1998 home run chase with Mark McGwire. Kipnis was in high school in 2003, when the Cubs were five outs away from the World Series until the famous foul ball that Bartman went for against the Florida Marlins turned around Game Six of the NLCS and became a part of the infamous Cubs lore.
"The only thing I'm mad at Bartman for is missing an easy fly ball," Kipnis said. "Every other fan was going for the ball. Every other fan still goes for the ball. The other night at Wrigley, you had one guy who was alert holding people back and everybody else was going for the ball still. So there's no blame on him and there never should have been.
"He never asked for all the stuff that happened to him afterwards. I don't think he deserved any of that. He was a loyal fan who wanted a foul ball. It was just the way the events turned that turned him into a scapegoat. I'd love to see him throw a first pitch. Probably everyone would go nuts."
Bartman has spent the last 13 years out of the limelight and is believed to have never returned to Wrigley. A family spokesman told Chicago outlets and Newsday in recent days that Bartman, now 39, has no intention of going back to a game and has declined several invitations -- including some from the Cubs -- to return to the ballpark in recent years.
Kipnis suffered what he called a more-than-mild ankle sprain during the ALCS celebration in Toronto, stepping on shortstop Francisco Lindor's foot with the first leap on the infield after the final out. He's been receiving extensive treatment and should play in Game One but may not be 100 percent.
"It wasn't a mild sprain. I got it pretty good," Kipnis said. "As long as we get the range of motion and swelling now, I'll be as good as new. We jumped up, he stuck his foot under mine. Trust me, if we win this one, I'm jumping even higher. It was a freak accident and I just happened to roll it."
All-Star Danny Salazar, out since early September with a forearm strain after going 11-6 in 25 starts, is expected to be added to the Cleveland roster today, giving the Tribe another potential starter for Game Four or at least a long reliever. The Indians are hoping Trevor Bauer's pinky, mangled in a drone accident during the ALCS, will allow him to pitch in Game Two. The roster does not have to be turned in until Tuesday morning.
Cracked manager Terry Francona: "Nothing's official, so if we have another drone incident or anything with model airplanes or anything, we reserve the right to change till we have to turn it in."
The Cubs, meanwhile, could get Kyle Schwarber back after he's been out since the third game of the season following knee surgery. Schwarber, who had 16 home runs last year, played his final game in the Arizona Fall League on Monday night.
"That would be legendary, especially if he does something good," said Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. "You should see the work the guy puts in. He's at the field at noon every day. It doesn't surprise me he's almost ready to go."
The Indians' World Series trip may be their first since 1997, but it's the third straight and the fourth in the last five years for the AL Central. It is the first time the division has had three straight Series teams since the three-division format was introduced in 1995, as Kansas City was the AL team in the last two Series. For all the talk about the dominance of the AL East over the years, it's notable that it has produced a World Series team just once in the last seven years (the 2013 Boston Red Sox).
Center fielder Kenny Lofton and second baseman Carlos Baerga, two of the standouts of the Indians' 1995 World Series team will throw the ceremonial first pitches in Games One and Two, MLB announced Monday. The '95 Indians went 100-44 in a strike-shortended season but lost the Series in six games to Atlanta in the Tribe's first appearance in the Fall classic in 41 years.
Actor Charlie Sheen, who portrayed Indians pitcher "Wild Thing" Vaughn in the iconic 1989 movie "Major League", had been campaigning on social media to get the task for one of the games but baseball stuck with actual former players for the roles.