Kris Bryant looked lost in the 1st inning of Wednesday night’s game as he faced a parade of junkballs from the soft-tossing Mike Bolsinger. Three pitches, three curveballs, three strikes. Good morning, good afternoon, good night. The first was called, but Bryant’s efforts to make contact with the next two were, well, not the kind of swings you’d expect from a guy who’s being painted on the sides of buildings and whose photos have looked down at Wrigley while hawking everything from Adidas to Express.
Funny thing about that swing though, it never looks like Bryant is putting forth a great deal of effort. His swing is so incredibly smooth that he appears at times to be almost half-assing it, offering at pitches out of boredom. But make no mistake, the kid’s using his whole ass, not to mention all of his legs, hips, and wrists. That silky motion begets inexplicable force, a languid explosion that has already launched Bryant to the top of some all-time lists.
This superstar in the making is more than just a pretty face and prettier swing (or is it the other way around?), he’s becoming a really good hitter and is improving his pitch recognition and contact rates. Bolsinger learned that the hard way when he threw Bryant another curve on a 1-0 count in the 3rd inning. What’s the old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame…oh my God.
Just look at how he folds his 6-5 frame into a not-quite-Bagwellian crouch with his stance neutral or ever-so-slightly closed. The left foot comes up in something less than a stride and more than a hitch, igniting the rest of the move. Bryant’s hands are quiet as he sits back on the breaking pitch, tucked back by his right ear until it’s time for them to be loud.
It’s almost as if the young man is drawing power from the very earth beneath him, that front foot tapping a primordial wellspring inaccessible to all but the chosen few. The energy flows up through his base in a hydraulic transference that sees hips spring and hands throw in a motion that’s more trebuchet than battering ram. It’s visceral and refined at the same time and I think I need to take a cold shower now.
Even before his most recent clout, which accounted for the Cubs’ only runs in a 2-1 victor that saw Jon Lester baffle the Dodgers for 9 innings, Bryant found himself in elite company. CSN Chicago flashed a graphic that compared Bryant’s performance through 200 games against those of three gentleman whose jersey numbers fly from the Wrigley Field foul poles.
You know what I find incredibly interesting about this list? Well, other than the fact that three of the four players on it have the exact same batting average? It’s that the RBI totals are so similar, at least for the trio of all-timers. Given the more erudite view of runs batted in as a function of opportunity as much as skill, you’d maybe expect to see a deviation greater than nine. That why, even though Bryant has been part of a potent lineup over the course of his young career, it’s impressive to see just how far out in front he is in that category.
Now, he’s still got a long way to go before we start preparing a jersey retirement ceremony for him and there’s certainly no guarantee he’ll continue to outpace the franchise players above. But Bryant has been even better than advertised to this point and he’s still growing as a player. Oh, there’s also the fact that he’s able to play all over the field. All things considered, the dude’s value is just staggering.
Though his name doesn’t appear among those listed, I can’t help but think of Ryne Sandberg and his ascension to fame three decades ago when I see what Bryant is doing and how he has captivated Cubs fans. Heck, baseball fans in general are taken with him. Maybe 30 years from now, Bryant will be traveling around the country signing autographs and listening to awestruck fans tell him how they named their kids after him. Maybe he’ll return to Wrigley to sing the stretch and see his name and number flapping in the breeze.
And maybe, just maybe, he’ll be able to do something else none of the Hall of Famers listed was ever able to accomplish. And no, I don’t mean hitting the center field scoreboard with a home run.