Sunday, August 1, 2021

Is Kris Bryant "The Wizard of Oracle"?

If the acquisition of Kris Bryant on Major League Baseball Trade Deadline Day were a movie for San Francisco Giants fans, it would sort of be like “The Wizard Of Oz.”

Stay with me on this. 

As a wild tornado of trade winds flattens the core of the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series roster, scattering superstars in all directions, Kris Bryant and his trusty glove finally land on top on the Wicked Witch of the NL West – the Dodgers – momentarily pinning them in second place and immediately eliciting cheers from throngs of hopeful Giants fans who see Bryant’s arrival as the team’s ticket to the Yellow Brick Hall and Emerald City of baseball’s coveted championship prize. On the road to the playoffs, Bryant joins a team of lovable, albeit flawed, characters who are trying to stave off their rivals in the standings. Along the path they encounter obstacles -- including scary and annoying Flying Dodgers fans --  in their quest to deliver the big bat the Giants need to stay on top and bring it home. The story ends with Bryant, a free agent at the end of this season, tapping his spikes and repeating “There’s no place like San Francisco … There’s no place like San Francisco …”

Pure fantasy? Not necessarily. Kris Bryant could become the Wizard of Oracle Park and stick around for a long time.

“It’s definitely enticing,” Bryant said behind his hazel green eyes in a pre-game press conference in the Giants’ dugout on Sunday. “I was talking with my wife when the trade happened and we both thought I’d end up here somehow someway. So far. So good. Everything has been super professional in such a classy organization. Anybody who has reached out to me so far I’ve been absolutely blown away. I feel unbelievably wanted. It’s such an amazing feeling.”

Perhaps Bryant, per orders from his agent Scott Boras, is saying all the right things and leaving all his future options open, but Bryant’s words before his debut with the Giants on Sunday sounded convincing that he is more than a three-month rental for the team who acquired him three minutes before the trade deadline on Friday. Bryant grew up in Las Vegas where, in elementary school, he became a Barry Bonds fan. He said growing up he had a mesh Giants cap with the Giants’ `G’ and a Bonds replica jersey and wore Bonds’ No. 25 on his uniform to pay homage to his idol. In fact, while on a family vacation to San Diego, Bryant almost came face-to-face with Bonds and got his autograph at a Giants’ game against the Padres at Qualcomm Stadium and was so disappointed that he didn’t that his mother went to a mall and bought young Kris an autographed Barry Bonds baseball.

That story is so cute that it could persuade Giants fans to invest $150 to go out and buy a cream-colored Giants jersey with “Bryant” and “23” (taken from third base coach Ron Wotus) on the back when they become available at the Giants Dugout Store. Afterall, Bryant in the Giants’ lineup feels more tactical than temporarily. His lifetime statistics at Oracle Park are a career OPS of 1.004 in 17 games with a .324 batting average, three doubles, one triple, five home runs, and 15 RBIs.

“I feel like I fit right in,” he says.

With free agent-to-be first baseman Brandon Belt coming off the books this offseason, the Giants will have money to spend to keep Bryant who, at the age of 29, is a valuable commodity in today’s game who can hit for average and power and capably play multiple positions. He said he prefers to play centerfield, but can play both corner outfield positions plus first and third base.

Bryant batted second and started at third on Sunday as the Giants remain uncertain when the injured Evan Longoria, who hasn’t played since June 5 because of a shoulder sprain, will return. Longoria, who turns 36 in October, is signed by the Giants through the 2023 season.

So can the Giants sign Bryant as a free agent? Boras is always looking for the best contract for his clients. Bryant was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and they have a young, upcoming team and money to spend. Bryant’s father played in the Boston Red Sox organization and they will have needs to fill at first base and a corner outfielder in the offseason. The New York Mets are another team with money and desire to sign Bryant and he has not ruled out a return to the Cubs, saying weeks ago that he could “absolutely” re-sign in Chicago.

The Giants at least have a three-month head start to make their case to Bryant and his wife, who also is from Las Vegas where they met as high school sweethearts. If it is their desire to stay in California close to home and their families, the Giants have as much to offer as the Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers and San Diego Padres whose third baseman, Manny Machado, signed a 10-year, $300 million free agent contract two years ago at the age of 26.

Giants certainly made Bryant feel welcomed on Sunday after he arrived at Oracle Park shortly before 9:30 a.m. with cameras ready to follow his every move. Fans gravitated toward the third base line when the ballpark opened and cheered Bryant when he came out to start warming up. They cheered when his introductory taped pre-game interview with Amy G was played on the giant video board before first pitch. And they gave Bryant a standing ovation when he came to bat for the first time and stayed on their feet in the third inning when, in his second at bat, he homered off a 94 mph fastball by Astros’ pitcher Luis Garcia to ignite a three-run rally.

Bryant thus matched the feats of his former Cubs teammates, Anthony Rizzo, now of the New York Yankees and Javier Baez, now of the New York Mets, who both homered in their first game with their new teams after being traded by the Cubs.

“I’m just hoping to be that consistent bat, that consistent player that shows up ready to play every day and play anywhere every day,” Bryant said before Sunday’s game. “It’s been cool to see what they have done in their debuts. Maybe there’s some magic here.”