When former Glenbrook North star Jason Kipnis came to the plate Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field, it was the moment little boys dream of a chance to tie up an exciting late September game.
But the little boy's dream did not come true for Kipnis, a second baseman for the Cleveland Indians, when he was at bat. The Sox recovered his sharp grounder and clinched a 5-4 win for Chicago.
For Kipnis, it was just another moment of frustration in a season – specifically in a second half - where he has struggled at the plate and his team has collapsed. But his experience in 2012 may prove to be the foundation of a solid major league career, through success and chastening.
Tale of Two Halves
When Kipnis talked to Patch earlier this year, the Northbrook native was on his way to a very good first half where he hit .277 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs to go alongside 20 stolen bases. His play merited some talk for the All Star Game.
He was a major weapon for the Indians who got off to a solid start, challenging for tops in the AL Central for most of the first half. On July 26th, they were 3.5 games behind the Sox with a record of 50-49 and then the bottom fell out with a 14-41 and now they possess last place playing out the string in these final few days of the 2012 season.
Not so coincidentally, Kipnis has tailed off in his first full season in the majors, sagging to a .228 average with only three homers, 21 RBIs and a mere eight stolen bases.
“It could be fatigue as it is his first time around here,” Cleveland manager Manny Acta said Monday. “It happens to a lot of guys where the league makes some adjustments and it is time for you to adjust back. He’s talented and he is going to be OK.”
The Indians are a fairly young team and that may also have been a reason for the sluggish second half of Kipnis.
“I wish here he had a little more leadership with veteran players who can show him the ropes,” said Cleveland broadcaster Rick Manning. “He’s had to learn a lot on his own this year but that is only going to make him stronger in the long run.”
Kipnis does appear to be finishing 2012 with a bit of a flourish as with a hit in Tuesday’s game, Kipnis has hit in eight straight games and he was recently nominated as the Cleveland representative for the Roberto Clemente Award, which honors major league players for their contributions to the game both on and off the field.
“He’s had a fine season for us,” Acta added. “We were not expecting this kid to carry our team. We expect more but it has been a great experience for him.”
The second half numbers may be disappointing, yet Kipnis has a lot to take pride in this season. Through Monday’s game he is just one of five players this year to hit ten homers and drive in 70 runs with at least 25 stolen bases. In fact he is only one of three players to reach those milestones while also scoring at least 80 runs.
He has also earned praise for his play at second base with only six errors and a stellar .991 fielding percentage.
“He’s become a very good defensive second baseman, he’s fun to watch,” Manning said.
Manning, who played on some bad teams throughout his 13-year career, predicts the tough times Kipnis has went through this season will pay off dividends as Kipnis matures in his approach to the game.“You are going to learn humility and you are going to learn how you don’t want to do it.”
According to Cleveland’s public relations staff, Kipnis was not available for comments on Monday night.
Given their record, it’s clear the Indians have a lot of work to do to start contending again, but the organization believes their current second baseman is an important part of the future.
“He’s one of the cornerstones of this franchise,” Acta said. “We see him as being a big time player.”