Kris Bryant started playing guitar around the time the Cubs made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft and immediately turned him into a face of the franchise.
People told Bryant he would need something to help get away from the game. The National League’s Rookie of the Year frontrunner tries to compartmentalize everything, binge-watching episodes of “Friday Night Lights” and “Game of Thrones” on Netflix and HBO to clear his head.
Bryant had shown enough potential as a student at the University of San Diego that he turned down the chance to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship. He also doesn’t take things too seriously, shooting a Red Bull commercial with a goat and going undercover as a Lyft driver in Chicago.
All that helps explain why Bryant has proven he’s even better than the hype, becoming an anchor for a playoff contender that saw its magic number cut to two even with Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.
“The scrutiny that KB was under in spring training was something I’ve never seen,” said catcher David Ross, who’s in his 14th season in the big leagues. “The way he’s handled it — and had a phenomenal year — has been really impressive.”
Bryant blasted his 26th home run on Tuesday night, breaking the franchise’s rookie record held by Hall of Famer Billy Williams. Bryant needs to drive in only two more runs to reach 100, putting the offense on his shoulders at times and helping elevate Anthony Rizzo into an MVP candidate.
Anything less and Bryant would have been considered a big disappointment by the Cubs fans who’ve been burned by overhyped prospects before.
There would have been a major media backlash after super-agent Scott Boras and the Major League Baseball Players Association made service time such a big issue for the game’s No. 1 prospect.
Bryant Day finally came on April 17 against James Shields and the San Diego Padres, delaying his free-agency clock until after the 2021 season and dropping him into the Wrigley Field fishbowl.
“That was absurdly kind of blown up,” Bryant said. “I guess it’s just natural now in baseball with the social media. People were telling me that ‘SportsCenter’ would go to each of my at-bats. That’s just crazy to me.
“I don’t think anybody wanted (that). I definitely didn’t want that.”
Bryant went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts during his big-league debut, waited 21 games before hitting his first home run, batted .168 in July and could finish with close to 200 strikeouts this season.
But Bryant hasn’t wilted or pouted or let it impact his defense at third base. He’s unselfishly moved to the outfield and even made game-changing plays with surprising speed on the bases for a 6-foot-5 slugger.
“He does not wear it,” Boras said. “Bryant has the absolute professional approach where 'I’m going to show up, and I’ve got a routine to deliver. And I’m not going to worry about what happens.'
“He has that belief, that structure, that confidence. And it’s rewarded.”
Bryant also hasn’t relaxed too much or let all the attention go to his head or isolated himself in the clubhouse.
“I don’t think outwardly we’ve seen frustration from him,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs executive who oversees scouting and player development. “He’s a very professional, even-keeled guy.
“I’m sure when he was going through some of the struggles it was eating at him inside somewhat. But he’s got a process and a mindset of coming in and working every single day. And that helps him, I think, not get too low.
“Or when he’s hitting walk-off home runs, the next morning he’s going to be the same guy. He’s going to come to the park (and) work on his approach. And I think it takes a certain type of makeup to do that.”
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Bryant is clutch, beginning the day with a .956 OPS with runners in scoring position. He’s been hitting .368 with two outs and runners in scoring position, getting on base almost 50 percent of the time in those situations. He led all rookies in on-base percentage (.371) and slugging percentage (.505). He had 27 more RBIs than any other rookie in the majors.
“I’ve always been like this,” Bryant said. “I’ve always been a player that would just leave it at the field. I just try not to think about the previous game — or my successes or struggles or any of that off the field — because there’s really no need to.
“I don’t think we’re normal people. We live a crazy life. But I think anybody out there kind of just leaves their work where it needs to be.”
That’s why the Cubs believe Bryant will deliver in the biggest moments in October for years to come.