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Baseball first, off-field balance second nature for Cubs’ Bryant

Kris Bryant

ANAHEIM, Calif. – One Sunday in late March, long after the Cubs had finished playing, Kris Bryant joined a group on the field in the fading light, filming, with small cameras, what looked like playground and party tricks – including at one point Bryant putting his forehead to the knob of a stood-up bat and spinning himself in circles. Then staggering away.

“It was an endorsement thing,” he said. “Stouffer’s.”

Yes, the TV-dinner people. It wasn’t a commercial exactly. More of a promotional video, with the Dude Perfect trick/stunt artists of YouTube fame.

The second-year third baseman, who filmed a Red Bull commercial before he ever took a swing in the big leagues, did another Red Bull shoot this spring at an area junior college, and filmed at least one MLB commercial with teammate Anthony Rizzo this spring. That doesn’t count what he does as part of his deals with a clothier and athletic shoe company or some of the other off-season events he was suddenly in demand to attend and/or host.

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“I’m always open to opportunities. I enjoy that stuff,” Bryant said. “It’s cool to get out there and do something different. You focus on baseball too much you go crazy.

“It’s fun for me. For some guys, it doesn’t work.”

Cool, fun and diversion sometimes have proved too much for young players like Bryant, thrust into spotlights and pulled in different directions by the sudden national fame that comes with such things as being a National League Rookie of the Year for an iconic franchise in a major media market.

Some people never figure out how to create balance in their lives – let alone, 20-something young adults with money, looks, fame, and less than a year of major-league experience.

If Bryant has the handle on it he appears to have, it could make him unique for his experience level.

And the traps to avoid aren’t just about the Johnny Manziel-style of binge living.

Two decades ago, after winning a batting title in his first full season in the majors, a young Alex Rodriguez showed up to Mariners spring training admitting he was exhausted from an offseason filled with new opportunities and distractions. He still grinded out a strong season, though not nearly at the level of the year before – or of most that came after. Rodriguez said then that it helped teach him to say “no.”

“I don’t even notice it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Bryant’s diversions. “Whenever you see him around here his focus is so good; his work is so spectacular; he’s full of energy. I think he does balance things extremely well.

“So from my perspective it’s kind of seamless what he does between off and on the field.”

If anything, Maddon raves about how much better Bryant’s swing looks this spring after an adjustment he and hitting coach John Mallee made last summer to lessen his extreme uppercut, which was causing him to swing and miss at pitches in the strike zone.

And he’s continued to work at improving his fielding at third (plus work in the outfield).

“It’s a new and improved version of KB this year,” Maddon said. “And it’s just going to keep getting better.”

Which should just keep the endorsement train rolling at full steam.

“It’s definitely not a challenge for me,” Bryant said. “I make sure I devote my time to certain areas. And that stuff’s fun for me. If it wasn’t fun for me, then I could see where it could affect me in terms of on the field. But I enjoy it. It helps me take my mind off the stresses that are on the field. Sometimes it’s just exhausting, so it’s important for me to get out there and do something different and have fun with it.”

Besides, he added, “I say ‘no’ plenty of times.”

Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, has an entire marketing arm of his business that help with endorsement matchmaking for clients such as Bryant, as well as with the balancing act with the baseball.

But Bryant figures he’s already ahead of the game when it comes to that balance, if not ahead of where A-Rod was at the same time in his career, after spending three years at the University of San Diego.

“College was way harder than this,” Bryant said. “Balancing time between study hall and school, and then practice at 5 a.m. and then 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and figuring out time to do your homework and study and projects, and meet up with your groups. There was so much more in terms of time management in college.

“I’m glad I went there, because if I didn’t, then I don’t know how I’d handle my time.”