PITTSBURGH — Kris Bryant had his own adidas billboard across from the iconic marquee before he played his first game at Wrigley Field. Bryant also shot a Red Bull commercial two days before he found out he would be promoted from Triple-A Iowa.
“That’s pretty solid, man,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that anticipatory moment that he had to go through, and I thought he dealt with it extremely well. Couldn’t have dealt with it any better than he did.”
Bryant embraces the hype — and sometimes even feeds into it — while living up to the big expectations. That helps explain why there’s a completely different vibe around this Cubs team now.
Even if Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t have the same offensive fireworks or a dramatic late-inning comeback at PNC Park. It ended with Bryant striking out swinging with the potential game-tying run on first base, but his at-bats are already becoming must-see events.
Win or lose, it’s not hard to make Bryant the story. He broke into his home-run trot in the first inning, mistakenly thinking he hooked a ball inside the left-field foul pole for his first big-league bomb. The 6-foot-5 third baseman also walked, doubled, scored two runs and played center field in the eighth inning.
Bryant knew super-agent Scott Boras would rip the Cubs, but he didn’t get his hands dirty during the service-time dispute in spring training. Bryant petted that goat, holding it on a leash while waiting for a bus to Chicago in that clever “Down on the Farm” spot for Red Bull.
Bryant is also hitting .409 (9-for-22) with a 1.143 OPS through his first six games in the majors, showing no signs of being in awe of his surroundings.
Bryant should have crossover appeal at a time when Major League Baseball is desperate to connect to the younger generation — and the Cubs have baseball plans directly dependent on a business model that hinges on box-office sales, a renovated Wrigley Field and the promised TV megadeal.
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“Kris has a unique personality in addition to having a unique talent,” Boras said. “He’s the kind of guy that’s very focused on the game and what he does and how he does it.
“He’s a baseball player. He really is. All the other things, I think, are enjoyable. Like you go in and you do something like that (commercial). You take a few hours and you put on barn boots and you go try to milk a cow and the goat thing.
“To me, that brought a message about a very historical thing for the team he plays for. He did it in (his own) way and also managed all the other things that went on in spring training by staying completely out of it: ‘I’m going to go play baseball. I’m going to do my best.’
“In dealing with your questions, which are appropriate, and managing it a particular way, he just has a unique sense for it. (It’s) being able to turn that off — and turn that on — and go out and play and do all the things he did.”
[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]
Bryant grew up in a stable, two-parent family and noticed the way Derek Jeter always stayed on message, keeping his reputation intact over the years and retiring as a New York Yankees icon.
Bryant could be seen signing autographs for fans throughout spring training, understanding that’s one of his responsibilities.
“Absolutely,” Bryant said. “I remember going to games when I was a kid and being the kid asking for autographs and what it was like when people would turn me down. And what it was like when people would come over and sign for me.
“I like to give people that respect. They’re here watching me play and rooting me on, so that’s a small thing that I can do for them.”
The bottom line: If this team gets hot, everyone can keep getting rich, the Cubs, Bryant, Boras Corp. Bryant’s father, Mike, loved how adidas rolled out the “WORTH THE WAIT” message on Addison Street.
“That was awesome,” Mike said. “Everybody made a big deal about it. It wasn’t. They had the billboard bought six months ago, for crying out loud. You can’t get billboard space in three days. Come on. Adidas has been really good to Kris, and they’re all about the Cubs winning, too. We want the Cubs to win.”