SAN DIEGO — Kris Bryant might have to thank his dad for his home run off Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale on Tuesday. The long ball gave the National League a short-lived lead while earning the Chicago Cubs All-Star third baseman another achievement in an amazing start to his career: his first All-Star Game home run.
But it might not have happened if his dad hadn’t run into Sale two nights earlier.
“We were at an All-Star event on Sunday and I go up to Chris and say, ‘Stop striking out my kid,'” Mike Bryant recalled after the American League’s 4-2 victory. “He says, ‘Who’s your kid?’ So I tell him, ‘It’s Kris Bryant, and he’s 0-for-6 off you with six strikeouts. Give him something to hit. A nice cookie or something.'”
Fast-forward to Tuesday night at Petco Park.
“It’s the third batter of the game, you throw first-pitch fastball,” Sale said. “We didn’t look at scouting reports or anything like that.”
Bryant jumped on it and the ball landed in the left-field stands, 394 feet away from home plate — a long ball he enjoyed even though he downplayed who it was against.
“This one doesn’t really count toward career statistics,” Bryant said. “I’m still 0-for-6 with six strikeouts against Chris Sale.”
He can start to change those numbers when the two Chicago teams face each other later this month, and by then Bryant might well be over 30 home runs for the season because he has been trending in the right direction all year. He hit four home runs in April, seven in May, 11 in June and has three so far in July. He just keeps getting better.
“You’re going to be looking at one of the best hitters in the game,” teammate Ben Zobrist said. “He already is, but the consistency is what you have to see over time to become a legend like Big Papi [David Ortiz].”
Ortiz’s 10th and final All-Star Game coincided with Bryant’s second trip in two years. How many Midsummer Classics will Bryant participate in? How many long balls will he hit? The sky truly seems to be the limit for him.
“He just knows he’s good,” teammate Anthony Rizzo said. “I’m really happy for him and how far he’s come.”
It has been one accolade after another for Bryant, starting with his time as a college star in San Diego, but don’t think that it came easy. He only makes it looks that way. Hours and hours of studying his own swing — with his dad by his side — have produced a hitter whose ability to learn and adjust at a young age is extremely rare.
“He’s an unbelievable athlete,” Sale said. “He’s a great hitter. It made for some entertainment.”
Before the game, Fox’s pregame show documented all the positions Bryant has played this season for Cubs manager Joe Maddon. For Cubs fans it has become the norm, but outside of Chicago it’s still a phenomenon. What superstar is used as a super-utility player?
But even a superstar needs his dad. After planting the seed with Sale, Mike Bryant gave his son some advice.
“He said, ‘First-pitch fastball, be ready for it,'” Kris recalled. “I said, ‘No, Dad, I’m taking the first pitch.’ Obviously I should listen to my dad more.”
So how much credit does Bryant’s dad get? Sale says a lot.
“He put the curse on me,” the pitcher said, smiling. “He should be happy. You can give him all the credit.”