Former Crusaders pitcher remembers facing current Cubs outfielder

Valparaiso pitcher Ben Mahar, who graduated last spring, throws a pitch. He forced current Cub Kyle Schwarber to ground out during an NCAA Regional game in 2013. Schwarber went 1-for-3 with a walk in Indiana’s 5-4 victory.

For members of the 2013 Valparaiso baseball team, a game against Indiana in the NCAA Regional is one they’d like to forget.

The Crusaders yielded four runs in the bottom of the ninth and watched the Hoosiers walk-off with a 5-4 victory behind a Chad Clark three-run homer off closer Karch Kowalczyk, who entered the game 12-for-12 in save opportunities.

But there’s one memory from the game that former Crusaders relief pitcher Ben Mahar doesn’t mind recounting. Mahar did what many big league pitchers have failed to do this season. He retired then Indiana catcher and current Cubs rookie outfielder Kyle Schwarber.

“I remember hearing about him beforehand and hearing about what a good hitter he was,” Mahar said. “I got ahead of him. It was a sinker low and away. I threw a slider and he fouled it off. He worked the count back to 2-2. I made one of the best pitches I ever threw, a sinker on the inner half. It started around his hips, and he rolled it over to (first baseman John Loeffler).”

Schwarber finished the game against Valpo 1-for-3 with a walk.

“We knew how to pitch him,” Valparaiso coach Brian Schmack said. “I watched some video of him in the Big Ten Tournament and they showed some of his swings and where the pitches were. He was hitting home runs on balls that were six inches off the plate, so we pounded him inside.”

Schwarber’s 438-foot home run in the seventh inning of National League Division Series Game 4 on Tuesday night was just the latest in a series of impressive swings by the Cubs’ rookie this season. It provided an insurance tally in a 6-4 victory that allowed the Cubs to clinch a postseason series at home for the first time in franchise history.

“It’s pretty strange, I faced this guy and here he is playing for the Cubs,” Mahar said. “It’s amazing, to be honest with you. I’m playing ‘MLB The Show’ and he’s in the video game.”

Mahar is a lifelong Cubs fan, but there’s still a part of Mahar that views Schwarber as the opposition. When he watches him climb into the left-handed hitting batter’s box, he sometimes sees an Indiana Hoosier rather than a Chicago Cub.

“It certainly is hard to root for him sometimes, I’m not going to lie,” Mahar said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome seeing him succeeding the way that he is. I enjoy seeing him do well.”

When asked to provide advice for the pitchers that will attempt to get Schwarber out for the duration of the Cubs’ postseason run, Mahar could only chuckle.

“He seems to be hitting anything,” he said. “It’s tough to give advice to pros. Don’t let him get ahold of one.”

Like most Cubs fans, Mahar enters the NLCS hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

Mahar witnessed Greg Maddux’s 300th win in San Francisco on Aug. 8, 2004. He was also in attendance for the doubleheader sweep over the Pirates that allowed the Cubs to clinch the NL Central on Sept. 28, 2003.

“They had just put in new mini-scoreboards along the first and third base lines,” Mahar said. “The Astros had just got beat by (the Brewers). Everybody was watching the scoreboard. After the game, I remember seeing Sammy Sosa running off the field with his bottle of champagne. I remember it vividly.”

Contact Brandon Vickery at torchsports@valpo.edu.

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