Chicago Cubs: The Makings of a Prodigy: Kris Bryant
|Wednesday, April 12, 2017 10:03 AM- -|
CHICAGO -- Close to two years have passed since Kris Bryant’s Chicago Cubs major league debut on April 17, 2015. Twenty-four months after Marty Pevey, Bryant’s manager at Triple-A went from discussing foul poles at the Iowa minor league stadium to telling him Bryant's dreams were about to become his reality. Who did Bryant call first to share the good news about his major league promotion? The star ballplayer phoned his mom Susie.
His father Mike was busy instructing a young ballplayer on the science of hitting. Mike uses a 72-foot-long, 18-foot-wide hitting cage (a present from his son) to help craft future All-stars at his Las Vegas home. He has a Hack Attack pitching machine, which can be customized to throw balls like the best pitchers in the game. The cage walls are decorated with memories of his son's baseball journey. A jersey from Bryant's college team at the University of San Diego hangs proudly. Cleats Kris wore the day of his major league debut have been bronzed for display. A Wrigley banner (a gift from Cubs president Theo Epstein) has an image of his son on it. There is also a Fender Stratocaster guitar, a gift from Kris to thank him for everything he did to support his journey to the majors.
The Acton, Massachusetts native had major league dreams long before his sons were born. The Red Sox drafted the centerfielder Mike Bryant in the ninth round of the 1980 draft. The center fielder could throw a one-bounce ball from the center field wall at Boston’s Fenway Park to home plate. The former star at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell could hit massive home runs. The team sent him to the New York-Penn League.
Mike was invited to spring training, and Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams took him under his wing. Learning from the master hitter about angles – pitching and hitting – to get the best results. He would hit just .210 for the Class A Winter Haven team. Still, the Red Sox invited him to back spring training the next year. Although Mike posted a batting average over .400, he was released.
Mike went home to Massachusetts before heading to Las Vegas to work at his father-in-law’s outdoor furniture company. The job’s long hours took a toll on him, so he went to work for a chemical sales company. Seventeen years have passed since then. He was now able to begin teaching his older son Nick the ‘ins and outs’ of baseball. His philosophy? Hit it hard and hit it in the air. It would be his eight-year-old younger son who took the advice to a whole new level. Kris began hitting balls over the 200-foot Little League fence. Three years later the future Rookie of the Year was practicing with professional pitching and hitting the ball over 300 feet.
Fast-forward to 2010 and the college scouts were coming out to see the Bonanza High School player. In the 18th round, the Toronto Blue Jays drafted Kris as he received scholarship offers from Louisiana State University, Arizona State, University of California-Irvine, Stanford, Clemson, Auburn, University Southern California, and Vanderbilt. He accepted a scholarship from the University of San Diego. Kris wanted to be part of the strong baseball program at the school, enjoy the California weather and hang out at the beach. A career turning point happened in San Diego - assistant coach Jay Johnson suggested he widen out his stance.
At the same time Kris was choosing his school, College of Southern Nevada player Bryce Harper was also drawing a lot of attention in Las Vegas. Bryce had earned his GED at age 16, so he could play for the college team. The future Washington Nationals player nicknamed Kris ‘Silk’ for the smooth approach he took when he played the game.
After Kris’ freshman year of college, he was invited to the summer Cape Cod Baseball League (in his dad’s home state). At the start of the league, the future All-Star struck out seven times in two games. Mike redirected Kris’ focus mentally, and the hits started coming. The accolades started coming in right away. In 2011 and 2012, Kris earned All-America honors. Kris was named Baseball America’s College Player of the Year in 2013. The 6’5’ star then went on to earn the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft and the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award (best amateur player in the nation).
On June 6, 2013, the Cubs chose Bryant in the first round with the second pick overall. The team gave him a bonus of $6.7 million on July 11. Who was selected before Kris? The Astros took pitcher Mark Appel (who was since traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and started the season on the team’s 40-man roster). In 2014, minor league managers took note of many of Kris’ strengths and named him the Most Exciting Player in the Southern League. The same year he was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. Kris was the year’s #2 best prospect in the Cubs farm system (behind Javier Baez).
Mike's bucket list includes golf in Hawaii, fishing for rainbow trout, jamming with the Grateful Dead and pitching to his son in a home run hitting contest. On July 13, 2015, Mike threw for Kris in the Gillette Home Run Derby before the summer All-Star game in Cincinnati. Kris’ first major league homer came on May 9 against Milwaukee.
The Bryant family joined Kris to see the World Championship banner fly over the park for the first time before the home opener on Monday night. On Wednesday the team will receive their championship rings. Mike has asked Kris if he could wear it for the first year. His son suggested he get a replica (Anthony Rizzo’s dad send him a replica ring).
Has Kris always wanted to play professional ball? Actually no, said his mom, he wanted to be a dentist. How does he relax after games? After a few hours to decompress and enjoy his Coldstone ice cream, Kris leaves the game on the diamond (might call Mike to discuss his at-bats) to order dinner in with wife Jessica. The couple might watch TV or Netflix at home. Kris also likes to play guitar and video games. Kris and Jessica, a typical 25-year-old couple. The couple wed earlier this year. They met when one of his high school friends was dating a friend of Jessica’s.
Outside of baseball, Kris has major endorsement deals with Red Bull, Express Clothing, and Adidas. The shoe company also sponsors Mike’s youth baseball team. "Don't let the pressure exceed the pleasure'' is a Joe Maddon phrase that Kris takes to heart. Expect him and his family to savor every moment, every day.