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What Kyle Schwarber's Cubs debut means for Indiana baseball

We all know about the program's recent rise. Now evidence of it is headed to the big leagues.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Schwarber will spend about a week in the major leagues. He will probably mostly feature as a designated hitter, although Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein also said he could be a "bat off the bench" as well as a backup catcher. He caught an inning last night, and he had his first major league at-bat (which did not go that well). All told, he'll probably get fifteen plate appearances or so before going back down to the minors, to make his Triple-A debut. It's a taste of the show, a cup of coffee.

Schwarber isn't the first Indiana University player to make it to the majors. He's not the first-ever Hoosier to be drafted in the first round. He'll have some work to do to even end up as the best IU big-leaguer ever, considering today he trails Ted Kluszewski by 279 career home runs (and four All-Star appearances, and 32.3 career bWAR). But Schwarber can make a difference in the IU program that others have not. He's a trailblazer for the new IU, the early face of the modern version of the program.

I actually remember the night he was drafted. I'm a huge baseball fan, but honestly never really bothered to follow the team when I was in school. They hovered around .500, and hadn't even made an NCAA regional since I was in elementary school. They were improving, and some of the parts of the later (better) teams were there, but didn't really come into my consciousness until a couple of years later. That run to the College World Series was unreal to watch, and I got invested in the team and the players. But I always wondered a little bit about how objective I was about them. Were the guys that good?

A tweet came across my timeline: "Kyle Schwarber drafted by the Cubs, 4th overall pick." Something like that. I actually called my dad. I was shocked to see an IU player taken so early in the draft, especially by a team run by a baseball mind I have the utmost respect for. Mostly I was shocked that I was right. It wasn't bias, I wasn't just desperate for my alma mater to get some respect in my favorite sport. He actually was good.

Taking the first steps to build a great program is extremely hard work. You have to hit on a bunch of recruits, and you have to do it without the benefit of history. Kids today aren't probably going to jump to sign a letter of intent when you mention a power hitter from just after World War II, or Mickey Morandini. There's nothing wrong with those guys, but they don't quite have the pull of Roger Clemens, or David Price, or even Robin Ventura. But if you can build that one first great team, it can go a long way towards fueling the next one, and the one after that.

Showing a recruit Kyle Schwarber in the majors is a benefit to the program. Showing a recruit the list of Indiana players drafted over the past couple of years shows him a path to the majors for himself. This is the kind of thing that helps build legitimacy among casual fans, particularly for a team that's not in the South or Southwest, a team that hasn't churned out superstar players or College World Series appearances. It's a step on the road from "decent Northern program" to "legitimate title contender," even though the player in question isn't actually on the team.

If Kyle Schwarber becomes a big-league star, his impact could end up being massive. But simply appearing in a Cubs uniform, with buzz and expectations around him, does a lot for Indiana baseball.

And at the very least, it's just one more thing Purdue doesn't have over us.