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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Meaning of Schwarber

A few of you who read us probably know that I have some other geeky pursuits besides living and dying with a baseball team. Among other things, I collect baseball cards, including making my own custom cards for Mets lacking such an honor; I write fiction, a good chunk of it set in the Star Wars galaxy; and I’m a pretty good self-taught genealogist. That last pursuit has caught me a fair amount about the various origins of last names. Some reference fathers and mothers (hence endings -son and -dottir), some refer to clans (the famous Scottish Mc-), others are left over from physical descriptions or places of origin (my own family features a Leffingwell, derived from a place called Lepping’s Well in England), and still others come from ancestral professions. Some of those job-based surnames are obvious — Butcher, Smith and Carpenter, for instance — while others are not. (“Fry” came from “Frey” and was likely a signifier of being a freeman, meaning my Swiss ancestors enjoyed more rights than the unlucky peasants.) Occupational surnames get trickier when you change languages: Zimmermann, for instance, is the German version of Carpenter, and I have collateral relations who changed their name from the former to the latter after arriving in Pennsylvania.

Which got me wondering if the last name Schwarber memorializes some long-gone profession.*

You’d think this would be simple, but Google isn’t much help — Schwarber isn’t a terribly common name, and most of the link results turn up dopey placeholder pages with a few demographic stats, links to fanciful coats of arms and assorted nonsense. But after Sunday’s matinee against the Nats, I’ll hazard a few guesses.

A few years ago, I might have surmised that “schwarber” meant “emergency reinforcement.” After a successful 2015 rookie season with the Cubs — which included a postseason bomb of a homer off the Mets — Schwarber played in just two games in 2016 before colliding with Dexter Fowler and destroying his knee, ending his season. His regular season, to be more precise — Schwarber tuned up with an Arizona Fall League while the Cubs were battling through the NLCS, was activated for the World Series, and hit .412 as the Cubs finally won it all.

A bit later, I might have concluded that “schwarber” was related to “indifferent harvester,” though that would be adding a bit of editorial commentary to a profession. Still, it would have made sense, given the number of baseballs that went unharvested by Schwarber during his labors in left field. That was the Cubs’ puzzle: finding a way to enjoy Schwarber’s bat while enduring his glove. Schwarber came up as a catcher but was soon moved to left, the position where those able to field the least are hidden as best they can be. (He’s also played a little right and a single game at first.)

Those troubles suggest a more logical origin for the name — “designated hitter,” though it’s possible the nature of that profession has wandered a bit since early modern Germany. Schwarber’s never been an American Leaguer despite the obvious logic of such a change: He was cut loose by the Cubs in December (along with future Met Albert Almora Jr.) and signed a one-year deal with the Nats.

After the last week, though, perhaps we need a new onomastic hypothesis. Maybe “schwarber” means “demolisher of spheroids.” Or perhaps that’s what it will come to mean, in much the same way that “molina” could logically become a Spanish synonym for catcher, given the number of Molinas related and un- who’ve played the position.

Schwarber’s Nationals Park barrage started last Saturday, when he homered off the Giants. A day later, he crushed two more. The day after that, he victimized the Pirates. A peaceful period followed, but in Saturday’s Game 2 against the Mets Schwarber was at it again, connecting off Robert Gsellman and then off Sean Reid-Foley. And then on Sunday Taijuan Walker was in his sights. In the first, Schwarber took a 2-0 pitch from Walker into the left-field stands to create an immediate problem for the Mets. His homer off Walker in the fifth was even more impressive — he clubbed a high sinker over the right-field fence, pulling a ball up around his eyes with enough force that it entered the Nats’ bullpen as a line-drive threat to life and limb.

Walker, though clearly not himself, acquitted himself well enough against non-Schwarber Nats, and a Pete Alonso homer in the seventh brought the Mets to within 3-2. Kevin Pillar walked and Luis Rojas sent Dom Smith up to pinch-hit for Brandon Drury. Dom spanked a ball past Kyle Finnegan, seemingly ticketed for center field and destined to put the tying run on third with nobody out. But alas, Starlin Castro was shifted into that exact spot, allowing him to snatch up the ball and start a nifty double play.

In the bottom of the seventh, a one-out double by Gerardo Parra spelled the end of Walker’s day. Jeurys Familia was brought in to solve the riddle of Kyle Schwarber, and instead added to his legend: His second pitch was a sinker that didn’t live up to its name. Redirected by Schwarber, it struck the top of the left-field wall and bounced into the Mets’ bullpen for our antagonist’s third home run of the day and the cessation of any faint Mets hopes. (A sore knee denied Schwarber a shot at connecting a fourth time, which was simultaneously a little disappointing and a blessed relief.)

But perhaps you read this recap expecting more existential musings on the meaning of Kyle Schwarber. If that was the case, sorry. Schwarbers happen — players ride hot streaks and cold ones, blandly offer reporters Just So Stories by way of explanations, and all you can do as a fan is hope that the various enemies’ and allies’ hot and cold spells work out in your favor. (Ask Schwarber about October 2015 and trying to combat a magical Daniel Murphy.) Schwarber’s now off to inflict cruelties on the Phillies, which we wouldn’t mind at all; the Mets will see him again a week from today, and can only hope the baseball ebb and flow is more to their liking by then, rendering Schwarber more indifferent harvester than demolisher of spheroids. We’ve seen enough of the latter, thanks all the same.

* If you want to be less fun, the name’s probably related to “schwarz,” which is German for “black” and often denoted a black-haired or ruddy-faced ancestor. But don’t be less fun.

6 comments to The Meaning of Schwarber

  • Seth

    Oh, very interesting. I thought “Schwarber” meant “Your pitcher isn’t very good today.”

  • greensleeves

    Pre All Star Doldrums, Ode to a Tired Bench Mob
    (to the tune of Send in the Clowns)

    Isn’t it rough-
    Are we fatigued? (yup)
    Sitting in front by 4 games,
    Leading our league…

    Here come the Phils
    Our offense is nil
    Please hand me my pills…

    Just when I thought
    We were in sync
    Summer arrives and do I need a drink!

    Watching us lose to predictable foes
    Too many games
    All in a row…

    Send in the bats
    There have to be bats
    Well, maybe McNeil

  • Richard Porricelli

    A late June swoon I fear may loom..But alas we did avoid the broom…

  • Daniel Hall

    As the token German here, I can’t be of much help. Never came across that name anywhere else. It could be a bastardization of somebody hailing from Swabia (Schwaben; the surname Schwab is not uncommon here), that’s all I got.

    I’d also prefer if he hailed from the AL though. I can’t stand .230 hitters with 35 bombs hit with eyes closed that do harm to my Metsies.

  • open the gates

    Based on how he’s played the Mets recently, I’m thinking a schwarber is German for a chipper.