MESA, Ariz. — Kris Bryant had forgotten about the nickname Bryce Harper gave him as a kid until the Washington Nationals superstar reminded reporters at Wrigley Field last season: "Silk."
Where Bryant can be so smooth, Harper has some rougher edges to his game, that run-into-the-wall intensity, a say-whatever's-on-your-mind approach to the media and — above all — Cooperstown-level talent.
Even if he would never say it quite like this, Bryant understands where Harper is coming from when he tells ESPN The Magazine that baseball is a "tired" sport, sparking reaction stories from across the country.
Bryant is stationed at Camp Maddon, where Huey Lewis showed up at the Sloan Park complex over the weekend and took batting practice after the sound system blasted "I Want a New Drug," "The Heart of Rock & Roll" and "The Power of Love" during the team stretch. On Easter Sunday, the players and coaches dressed in tight shorts and knee-high socks, like they were auditioning for a "Dazed and Confused" sequel.
"Some of the stuff we do doesn't have to be backflips (or) showing anybody up," Bryant said. "I just think what fans see is really genuine from us. We're just out there having fun. A lot of it comes from Joe, too.
"There's a good combination of personalities here. Everybody brings something different to the table. And I think that's kind of what attracts some of the fans that we have."
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Bryant and Harper both grew up in Las Vegas and signed on with Boras Corp. Together, they hosted an offseason charity golf tournament in Nevada on behalf of the Major League Baseball Players Association. They also bumped into each other in January during an epic blizzard that blanketed Manhattan, picking up their Rookie of the Year and MVP hardware from the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
They aren't particularly close and don't train together during the winter. Bryant isn't quite in Harper's stratosphere, either, even as an All-Star third baseman coming off a 26-homer, 99-RBI season.
But Bryant is building his own marketing portfolio at a time when Harper wonders why baseball players don't have the same style and crossover appeal as NBA stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
"It's just fun," Bryant said. "You get these opportunities where I want to make memories for myself that I can look back on. Obviously, you make a lot of them on the field. But you can do stuff off the field, too, to kind of show your personality a little bit more and get the fans involved and give them something."
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For a recent Red Bull spot, Bryant pretended to be a European transfer student at Mesa Community College and started crushing balls during batting practice. The Bryant disguise worked better last year while posing as an undercover Lyft driver in Chicago.
Bryant is now a "brand ambassador" for Express men's clothing and affiliated with Stouffer's frozen foods and a new baseball video-game app. You should also see the "Bryzzo" campaign — an MLB promotion shot with All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo — in the rotation around Opening Day.
"We're like a souvenir company selling home-run balls to fans," Bryant said. "Kind of like those used-car commercials on TV and they're super-cheesy — that was us."
Before it became a T-shirt this spring, Bryant embraced the target. Adidas put up that "WORTH THE WAIT" billboard on Addison Street before his big-league debut. He hung out with a goat and shot that "Down on the Farm" commercial for Red Bull during his service-time sentence with Triple-A Iowa.
Where Wrigley Field used to be a place for overhyped prospects to fade away, the Cubs are now selling legitimate stars.
"It was really good for a lot of young guys to come up all at once," Bryant said. "It was easy for us to adjust to it, just because there was more attention spread out amongst us rather than just one person.
"We've embraced it. I've definitely had a lot of fun with it — both on and off the field — in terms of the opportunities that I've been getting. And there's a lot of guys here who could be doing (the same things)."
If the Cubs might irritate the old-school crowd with some of their antics, then it's also entirely possible that this loose group could help attract the younger generation that baseball has so much trouble reaching now.
"Everybody talks about us and how they like our players," Maddon said. "There's a lot of youth involvement. And even the guys that aren't as young are still really engaging, charismatic kind of players.
"The city itself, the fan base, the ballpark, the year that we had last year - all the needles are going to be pointing in our direction."