Cubs: The sense of calm that makes Kris Bryant a ‘born hitter'

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ST. LOUIS — July 23, 2013, might have been the exact moment to buy stock in "Bryzzo Souvenir Company." Kris Bryant went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in his Class-A Boise debut while Anthony Rizzo played for a last-place team that traded away Matt Garza the day before.

Rizzo thought of Boise after an Opening Night loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, immediately dismissing the idea when a reporter wondered if Bryant might be frustrated with an 0-for-4 that saw him strike out three times against Carlos Martinez and fail to drive the ball deep enough off Seung Hwan Oh in a bases-loaded, one-out, eighth-inning situation.

"Look what he's gone on to do," Rizzo said. "He's a born hitter."

All Bryant has done since his junior year at the University of San Diego is become the national college player of the year, the 2013 Arizona Fall League MVP, the consensus 2014 minor league player of the year, the National League’s Rookie of the Year, MVP, Hank Aaron Award winner and a World Series champion.

Beyond the athleticism, hand-eye coordination and baseball IQ, Bryant has an exceptionally calm, grounded personality that allows him to block out the noise, manage the ups and downs and not worry about striking out three times in his big-league debut against James Shields or making a bad first impression in Boise.

"It could only go up from there," Bryant said Tuesday. "That was obviously not the way you want to start off your professional career. But maybe it's a good thing, because then it can only get better from there.

"But, no, I'm frustrated even after good games. That's just what drives me. Even when I do something good, there's always something I can do better, so there's no different feeling.

"We're going through this ride all over again, hopefully another 180-plus games. It's a grind. We're already in grind mode. I've always been that way, good games, bad games, grinding it away."

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Rob Zastryzny had been a second-round pick in Bryant's draft class and already pitching in Boise by the time the franchise savior showed up after commanding a $6.7 million bonus.

"We were all wondering what kind of talent he had," Zastryzny recalled during last year's World Series media day. "We were all like: 'Man, this is Kris Bryant?' And I remember the guys who were striking him out. They'd look at him like: 'Oh, you're a second-overall pick?'

"And then the next day he came up there and put on an absolute show in BP. We were all sitting there like: 'Oh, OK, this guy doesn't belong here at all.' Sure enough, he was gone like a week later.

"The first 24 hours we all knew Kris, we saw an 0-for-5 kind of guy. Real nice, didn't act any different than (everybody else). The next day, the same guy showed up to the yard (and) was the best player on the team by far.

"The way I tell it to people is it took him five at-bats to get back into the swing of things. That's it. I don't know how he trained or whatever between the draft and when he got to Boise. But it took him five at-bats in pro ball to be: 'All right, I got this level figured out.' There was about 24 hours of doubt in Cubs fans' minds — and then it was all gone from then on out."

Bryant joked about having to face Martinez — "it's not fair when a guy throws 100 miles an hour the first game" — and will never let anyone see him sweat at Busch Stadium.

"I felt the nerves, of course," Bryant said. "It's your first game. There's a ton of people here. In Cardinal territory, you feel the nerves a little bit, so it's nice to just get them out of the way and move on."

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