PITTSBURGH – Kris Bryant doesn’t feel like he’s putting a target on his back. He already knows he’s good. He feels very comfortable in the spotlight.
Bryant brings some star power to the Cubs. You saw that again during Monday night’s 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. There was nothing scripted or focus-group-tested about his performance.
A clever new Red Bull commercial shows Bryant literally twiddling his thumbs in the dugout during his 12-day sentence in the minors. Adidas put up the “WORTH THE WAIT” billboard across the street from the Wrigley Field marquee. Super-agent Scott Boras and the Major League Baseball Players Association made service time a huge national story in spring training.
The Cubs got their extra year of club control – and a new face of the franchise.
“I definitely think it comes with the territory,” Bryant said. “But I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. I try to go out there and do things the right way – on and off the field – and get better every day. I think these special things that come along with it are just icing on the cake. I really am focused on what I have to do here.
“If I go about things the right way, then I’ll earn that respect. And that’s all that I ever want.”
Image isn’t everything for Bryant, a baseball gym rat who knows how to keep a low profile in the clubhouse. He’s also a hard-to-miss, game-changing force.
Bryant broke this one wide open with two outs in the seventh inning, driving a ball that bounced off the base of PNC Park’s left-center-field fence. Bryant rounded second base and hustled to third as Jorge Soler scored easily – and Anthony Rizzo scored as the ball bounced away from catcher Francisco Cervelli.
Bryant took another wide turn at third and tried to run back to the base before sprinting to home plate. Cervelli couldn’t handle the throw and all of a sudden the scoreboard showed: Cubs 4, Pirates 1.
“Rizzo told me: ‘You just hit a Little League home run,’” Bryant said.
Bryant also said he didn’t know about the adidas marketing stunt until Rizzo sent him a selfie in front of the billboard.
“Down on the Farm” shows Bryant in his rain boots, hanging out in a barn. He also does a Tiger Woods impression, repeatedly bouncing a baseball off his bat before crushing it.
Bulls star Joakim Noah offers some advice: “Chicago fans can be tough, Kris. Good luck with that.” Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, former Cubs third baseman Ron Cey and what appears to be the friendly staff at Wiener’s Circle – “Who the (bleep) is Kris Bryant?” – also make appearances.
It ends with Bryant petting a goat, about to board a bus headed for Chicago. Da Coach, Mike Ditka, looks into the camera and says: “Now’s your time. The wait is over.”
Bryant shot the Red Bull spot on April 14, or two days before he found out he would be getting called up to make his big-league debut at Wrigley Field. The timing coincidentally worked out because Triple-A Iowa’s game in New Orleans got rained out that day.
“It turned out great,” Bryant said. “I didn’t want to be like the center of attention. I think they did a good job of barely showing me, because I don’t want that attention, being the young guy here.”
A reporter responded: But it was all about you.
“It was, but there was a lot of other guys in there,” Bryant said. “I think it was more so about the excitement of where the organization is headed. The whole city of Chicago is excited, and I was happy about that.”
Forget the Q rating, Bryant is already putting up numbers. He went 3-for-4 with a walk and also delivered a clutch two-out RBI single in the fifth inning. He’s put up a 1.150 OPS through his first four games in The Show.
Bryant apparently only looks rattled around animals.
“I’m not a farm boy – I’m a city boy,” Bryant said. “My emotions were very much on point. I had no clue what I was doing. The goat wanted to run around and it was kind of hard to keep it by my side. It was definitely pretty funny.”