The legend has grown to such gargantuan proportions that maybe the best way to welcome the kid to Wrigley Field as he makes his major league debut this weekend, finally(!) summoned from Triple-A Iowa, is to begin by separating the Man from the Myth….
True Fact No. 1: Kris Bryant has been earning cash for home runs since he was in Little League.
Absolutely true story. The man who is about to rock the Chicago Cubs' world told it to me himself, a few days before the Cubs made him the second overall pick in the 2013 draft.
It started at home near Las Vegas, when Bryant’s grandfather was so thrilled with his first Little League home run that he handed the kid $100.
Grandpa Bryant continued to hand Kris $20 for each home run thereafter, all the way up until he was a freshman in high school.
“Then I hit a bunch of them and he said, ‘I can’t afford this!’” Bryant told me, chuckling.
Because his grandparents valued education every bit as much as long balls, they also gave him $100 for a straight A report card. Bryant cashed in there, too.
“I guess I’m good with incentives,” he joked on that day we talked in the home dugout at the University of San Diego, where he led the nation with 31 homers in 62 games in his junior (and final USD) season.
True Fact No. 2: Kris Bryant doesn’t need as much work on defense at third base as you might think.
He may be great with incentives (there is precious little Bryant is not great at), but he still couldn’t beat The Man this spring.
The Cubs shipped him out after he hit the cover off the ball, Roy Hobbs-style, all spring because they said he needed more seasoning at third base. Odd how the amount of seasoning Bryant needed was exactly equal to the number of days (12) the Cubs needed to keep him in the minor leagues to delay his arbitration- and free agent-eligibility for an extra year, isn’t it?
The amazing thing is the Cubs could address his need for “seasoning” with a straight face. Everybody knows what this was about.
But do you know what? That’s OK. That’s the rules, and go ask Bryce Harper (debuted April 28, 2012) and Mike Trout (July 8, 2011) about that. Or Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco (June 10, 2014) and Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun (May 25, 2007). Bryant is not the first high profile phenom to spend extra days (or weeks) on the farm for business reasons.
Yet on the day the Cubs dispatched Bryant to Triple-A Iowa this spring, even the Major League Baseball Players Association weighed in on Twitter, calling it a “bad day for baseball.”
You can expect the union and owners to do battle over this issue come the next round of bargaining talks, but talk about an overreaction. A bad day for baseball is when another player gets popped for steroids, or Josh Hamilton’s demons overtake him.
Yet Bryant elicited that kind of overreaction because he belts baseballs like few others at a time when the game is starved for sluggers.
And, oh my, how perfect is it that he said goodbye to Triple-A baseball on Thursday night with a three-run home run in his final at-bat?
True Fact No. 3: Kris Bryant once hit a home run so far nobody saw it land.
Absolutely true story, with a disclaimer: Understand, nobody is saying the ball didn’t land. It’s just that, maybe it’s still going.
This happened his last year at USD, early in the season against St. Louis University, on a foggy, misty evening. Bryant smashed a home run over a light standard in left field, so high and so far and so deep into the mist that it just disappeared. Gone.
That same year, one scout watched him two-thirds of the way through the season when Bryant had 20 homers and Loyola Marymount’s entire team had zero.
Yes, the legend has been growing from those $20 home run Little League days through home runs disappearing into the mist in college to the 43 homers he smashed last year combined at Double-A and Triple-A to lead all of professional baseball.
Bryant has hit, and hit hard and hit often, at every single level he’s ever played. At a rangy 6’5”, 215 pounds, scouts have been split on whether he’ll be a Troy Glaus-like big man presence at third, or whether he’ll eventually move to the outfield.
True Fact No. 4: Kris Bryant is smart enough and pleasant enough to adapt just about anywhere.
Toward the end of this spring, as the noise surrounding his status reached ear-splitting proportions, new Cubs manager Joe Maddon started Bryant in left field during a Cactus League game against the Angels. Which seemed really odd, given that the Cubs had just warned that he may go to the minors for more “seasoning” at third base.
If he needed more work at third, it sure was a strange sight to see them move him to left.
“It is a little different because you’re working at one position,” he said when I asked him about it that day. “But I’m a baseball player, and it’s good to have versatility.
“I think if you go about things with a positive attitude, they usually turn out good.”
Including this. Sure, Bryant would have preferred not to start the season in Triple-A. But in another month, that will be long forgotten. He arrives on Friday, and this will be one of the most important debuts in Cubs history.
Hyperbole? Not even close. A team that hasn’t won the World Series in more than a century hired Theo Epstein, the architect of Boston’s curse-breaking World Series title in 2004, and now has the consensus No. 1 farm system in the majors.
This is the dawn of a new era. It is morning in Wrigley Field. Whatever your preferred description, Friday, this weekend, and beyond are enormous days for Bryant and the Cubs.
And no small part of the reason Bryant will succeed is because no small part of the reason the Cubs drafted him second overall in 2013 is because they identified him as a person with the makeup to handle everything that is unique to the Cubs, Wrigley Field and the city of Chicago.
This isn’t a kid with uber baseball talent who is dim upstairs. He carried a 3.35 grade-point average as a finance major in college.
True Fact No. 5: Kris Bryant is even bigger than the controversy over the Wrigley Field bathroom shortages.
Well, OK, so maybe this is the one purported fact still in need of verification.
Just one last word of advice to everyone flocking to Wrigley Field to see Bryant this summer: Whatever you do, please, please pee before getting to the ballpark. You do not want to be standing in line and miss this kid at the plate.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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