FORT MYERS, Fla. — Sam Travis grew up in a suburb south of Chicago and became a White Sox fan as a result. But when the Cubs played in the World Series last fall, he put that aside for a few days.
Travis played three years at Indiana University with Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber. The Hoosiers were 126-65 and twice made the NCAA Tournament with Travis and Schwarber on the roster.
Schwarber was a first-round pick in 2014 and Travis went in the second round to the Red Sox.
Their careers intersected again last season as both were presented with the same obstacle.
Schwarber tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee on April 7 in Arizona when he collided with teammate Dexter Fowler while chasing a deep fly ball.
On May 29, Travis tore the ACL in his left knee while executing a rundown play for Triple A Pawtucket.
For Travis, it was the end of his season. But Schwarber was able to return in time to be the designated hitter in the World Series. He was 7 of 17 with three walks, a double, and two RBIs to help the Cubs to their historic championship.
“It was awesome, especially him coming off the injury as quickly as he did,” Travis said on Saturday. “Being a good friend of mine, I want to see him do well and he exceeded everyone’s expectations. It was a lot of fun to watch.”
When Travis was injured, Schwarber was one of the first people to call him and told him what to expect with the rehab process. His advice was to attack it every day and not be despondent.
But Travis said watching Schwarber in the World Series, as fun as it was, didn’t provide him with any extra inspiration.
“No. You always have dreams of playing in the World Series and winning not just one but multiple. That was always the case,” he said. “If you don’t have that mind-set, you’re not in the right place.”
Travis was 15 of 32 (.469) in 18 spring training games last season with four extra-base hits and 13 RBIs. The 23-year-old first baseman is an aggressive hitter with developing power. He has an .816 OPS through three minor league seasons.
Travis homered against Northeastern on Thursday and on Saturday was 1 for 2 with an RBI double against the Minnesota Twins. He will be in the lineup against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.
The Sox are eager to see how Travis bounces back this season. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski constructed the roster in such a way that Travis will be in a position to complete for a job next spring, if not sooner.
“He’s shown the ability to hit quality pitching. Unfortunately he missed a majority of last season with the knee injury,” manager John Farrell said. “You love the attitude and the confidence that he has. He welcomes the higher stage and the challenge that exists against quality pitching.”
Travis still wears a brace on his knee but doesn’t feel the injury is an issue.
“It’s great. It honestly feels better now that I’m doing more things. It feels better every day. I had the mind-set that it would feel fantastic and it does,” Travis said.
“I just need to get used to playing games every day. That’s the final step.”
Travis is a taciturn young man but polite. He carries himself with the confidence of a player who knows he can make an impact.
“He knows how to be one way, a man of few words is the best way to put it,” Farrell said. “He’s a baseball player through and through. That’s his focus; that’s his priority.”
Travis did get expressive when asked if the injury strengthened his resolve and perhaps improved him as a person.
“It already has, with everything in my life,” he said. “It takes you back to reality and makes you appreciate things you maybe took for granted. It makes you realize how lucky you are to be here.”
Schwarber and the Cubs play the Sox at Fenway Park April 28-30. Whether it’s then or perhaps in the World Series, Travis expects to play against his friend someday.
“Oh yeah. I’m sure we’ll cross each other down the line,” Travis said. “No doubt.”
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.