Can anybody remember a local baseball season like this one?
■ First and foremost you had the Mountain Ridge kids. First local team to qualify for the Little League World Series. First local team to almost win it. First local team to have gotten screwed by the made-for-ESPN “double elimination” bracket.
■ You had Kris Bryant, property of the Chicago Cubs, who is built like former Cubs (and seven other teams) slugger Dave Kingman, and who wallops home runs as “Kong” did: in long, majestic arcs that come to rest on streets outside of ballparks. Bryant, who played high school ball at Bonanza, hit 43 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, the most in the minor leagues. He drove in 110 runs; he batted .325; he signed lots of autographs. On Wednesday, he was named Minor League Player of the Year by USA Today.
■ The guy who finished second to Bryant for the Joe Bauman Award (most minor league dingers) and for Minor League Player of the Year was his pal Joey Gallo, property of the Texas Rangers. Gallo played at Bishop Gorman. He’s a rung below Bryant on the minor league ladder but wallops tape-measure home runs just like him; Gallo belted 42 long ones splitting his time between Class A and Double-A.
■ In the majors, there’s big Chris Carter of the Astros, formerly of Sierra Vista High. Carter’s both sultan and swatter. He swatted two more against the Angels on Wednesday giving him 35 homers for the season; he’s two long flies behind Nelson Cruz and for the major league lead. Yes, Carter also strikes out a lot. So did Babe Ruth, relatively speaking.
■ For the second straight season, the 51s made the PCL playoffs. A lot of people went out to Cashman Field on $1 Beer Night, and on Bobblehead Night, and on Fireworks Night. (Not as many people went out on Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia Awareness Night vs. Tacoma.) Wally Backman was named PCL Manager of the Year. Can somebody get Backman a major league job for Pete’s sake?
■ Even Bryce Harper has come to life. He hit two home runs in one game for the Nationals on Sunday. On Tuesday night he hit another one, off the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, no less. Harper has his batting average up to .272. No, he’s not Mike Trout, and those comparisons have ended for now. Still, Harper is only 21. He still might turn out to be pretty good.
■ Oh, and Greg Maddux was inducted into the Hall of Fame about 10 seconds after he became eligible.
So it has been a summer to remember on the diamonds around here, and diamonds elsewhere. But if it weren’t for the Mountain Ridge kids, it probably would be remembered mostly as Kris Bryant’s summer, because summers like his don’t come around very often.
“It’s still the same game,” Bryant said when we spoke on Wednesday about his big season that has Cubs fans drooling rather than wallowing in their Old Style beer. “Hit the round ball when it’s coming at you.”
His 43 homers tied him for eighth on the list of most home runs in a single minor league season walloped since 1982, when Ron Kittle walloped an all-time high of 50. The next year Kittle hit 35 for the White Sox, the year after that he hit 32, the year after that he hit 26. Ron Kittle spent 10 seasons in the big leagues but he batted just .239, so comparing Kris Bryant to Ron Kittle might be doing the former a disservice.
Bryant also has improved at third base. He still might do the Ryan Braun thing (except for the PEDs) and wind up in the outfield at Wrigley Field next season, or in some near future season. Baseball people say he’s not a defensive liability anymore.
But talking about Bryant’s defense is like talking about a Corvette’s gas mileage. His favorite position still is batter.
“He’s 6-5, bro. He’s so tall that when he misses a ball, he can still hit it out.”
That was just Manny being Manny when USA Today asked Manny Ramirez, now a coach and occasional pinch hitter for the Iowa Cubs, about what makes Bryant special.
“The thing I like about him, he knows how to turn the page. If he misses an at-bat, he forgets about it and moves on to the next one. A lot of players can’t do it, but he knows how to do it at such a young age.”
Bryant is 22; this was his first full pro season since winning the Golden Spikes Award, the college baseball Heisman Trophy, at the University of San Diego before being drafted second overall by the Cubs and signing for one of those giant bonuses.
It seems a travesty Chicago didn’t call Bryant up for a big league cup of September coffee. But baseball has silly rules governing free agency and whatnot, and if the Cubs call up Bryant before next April 15, it would mean he would become a free agent one year sooner.
Bryant’s agent is Scott Boras; big league ballclubs generally do not sit down at the bargaining table with Boras any earlier than is necessary.
“It’s everyone’s dream to play in the major leagues but I’m in a little bit of a holding pattern right now,” said Bryant, who on top of being able to hit a baseball for a long way and for a high average is the nicest kid you’ll ever meet. “There are lots of things involved when it comes to promoting someone.”
So while Joey Gallo and the 51s still are playing baseball in the minor league playoffs, and the Mountain Ridge kids threw out the ceremonial first pitches at Cashman Field on Wednesday night, and a bunch of his I-Cubs teammates are making life miserable for the Milwaukee Brewers, Kris Bryant has returned to Las Vegas for an extended rest.
As Manny Ramirez would say, he’s earned it, bro.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski an be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski