Standing amid the blue crush that threatened to sweep away anything not nailed down, the baseball lifer appeared on the verge of tears. A few decades, and probably more than a few pounds, removed from his own playing career, the Massachusetts native was looking forward a few weeks after being asked what it would be like to see his son launch one over the Green Monster. Not often one to let silence get in the way of a good story, Mike Bryant had to pause to collect himself.
And there in those quiet moments — inasmuch as you can so describe the pregame throng at Wrigley — I learned as much about the bond between father and son as I had listening to, editing, and re-reading the interview the elder Bryant granted CI a couple months back. Mike looked out at the concourse a moment longer as though trying to see Wrigley’s kindred soul a thousand miles to the east, and then the Yankee (regional, not team) accent started back up, more measured this time but building steam.
He had played at Fenway a couple times himself, college all-star games during his days as a star at UMass-Lowell, where he batted .368 with 21 home runs alongside Mike “Spanky” LaValliere. Bryant had fully regained his swagger as he recounted the time he’d arrived to the ballpark several hours early for BP and warmups. He was just so hyped to have the opportunity to play on the fabled field that he wanted as much time there as possible.
Though he wasn’t able to make it back as a member of the Red Sox organization, Mike now returns to Boston to watch his son perform on the same stage he occupied some 36 years ago. In a way, it’s where Kris’s story began, since Mike proposed to his wife behind the Monster. I suppose a skeptic could look at this weekend’s series and see it as father living vicariously through his son, but that’s not what this is, not really.
I mean, yes, that’s an inescapable part of the story because of where Mike grew up and where his own career arc landed. There’s also the angle of the Cubs star being both validation of and advertisement for Mike’s teachings. In that, the professional hitting instructor has a neon sign as bright as any of those that set ablaze the night sky in his hometown.
But if you saw the father standing beside his son during the MVP presentation — and in the batting cage they had used to craft that award-winning swing, no less — or heard him talking at Wrigley immediately prior to the Cubs getting their rings, you’d know it’s not about reliving the past. Rather, it’s using history to frame the present as Kris Bryant gets a chance to emulate Ted Williams in more than just imagination.
That’s a lofty comp, to be sure, and one that’s rendered all kinds of incongruous by the way the game has changed over the years. But when we talk about iconic status, the young Cubs slugger certainly appears to be on a trajectory similar to that of the home runs he launches with that carefully crafted upward swing. And this series in Boston could provide one of those “remember when…” moments that stand as mile markers along the road to superstardom.
After establishing a record for futility among reigning MVP’s, Bryant has been quietly turning things around. Since that 0-for-14 start to the season, he’s slashing .333/.437/.538 with 10 extra-base hits, 12 RBI, and 13 runs scored. And during his active eight-game hitting streak, the man with the best-selling jersey in baseball is hitting .394/.475/.515 with a mere 17.5 percent strikeout rate. His overall contact rate is up, he’s swinging and missing less, and it still doesn’t feel as though he’s really busted out.
What better spot than Fenway for the MVP to really make his mark on the 2017 season? As awesome as it would be to see Bryant clear the Monster, I know at least one fan in the stands who might have trouble seeing him round the bases if it happens.
Theo isn’t even the best Epstein
Before he played the role of Galahad in Chicago, bringing the Holy Grail to Wrigley Field and ending the century-plus championship drought there, Theo Epstein did the same in Boston. It’ll be his first time back in his old stomping grounds as an opponent, certainly his first as the greatest leader in the world.
But Theo will probably tell you he’s the wrong Epstein to be getting all the attention. His twin brother, Paul, is a high school guidance counselor and social worker whose efforts are far less public but far more impactful in the community. Bob Nightengale has a fantastic story about the Epstein brothers’ relationship and their efforts to raise money for their Foundation to Be Named Later.
Without giving away too many spoilers, just imagine Jose and Ozzie Canseco if they weren’t completely unhinged. Except not. Go read it, we’ll still be here when you get back.
More news and notes
- Ian Happ hit his eighth HR of the season, a grand slam, in a 9-7 win
- Shelby Miller has flexor strain and partial UCL tear, but has not decided on TJ surgery
- He’s been moved to the 60-day DL
- A return this season is unlikely
- Looks like that Jeter/Bush group hasn’t won the Marlins’ sale bid after all
- The Tagg Romney/Tom Glavine group is still in the mix
- It’s weird that a race involving a Bush in Florida is still undecided after being called
- Baseball has the best names; among Thursday’s transactions were:
- Sam Tuivailala
- Joe Gunkel
- Mallex Smith
- The Braves recalled Jason Motte from AAA
- I want one of these BP jerseys, so please get me one for my birthday