SAN DIEGO (AP) Every time top Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant hits a home run, proud papa Mike Bryant beams back home in Las Vegas.
When Texas Rangers top prospect Joey Gallo goes yard with his powerful swing, Bryant gets a charge out of that, too.
Bryant doubled down, all right. He taught his son and Gallo how to hit when they were kids, passing along the lessons he learned from Ted Williams during the two spring trainings he was a Boston Red Sox farmhand in the early 1980s.
Now Bryant and Gallo are staging a home run derby as they make the climb to the major leagues.
Kris Bryant, 22, hit his 39th homer Tuesday night. He’s hit 17 with Triple-A Iowa following his promotion from Double-A Tennessee, where he hit 22. Bryant’s 31 homers as a junior at the University of San Diego in 2013 were the most in a season since toned-down composite bats replaced aluminum bats in 2011.
Gallo, 20, has hit 38 this season, 17 with Double-A Frisco after hitting 21 with Class A Myrtle Beach. He led the minors in homers with 40 last season as a 19-year-old.
”When you’ve got two guys, two baseball families that grew up together, the kids hung out together, and then I see this culminating and they’re on a parallel path to the major leagues, it’s humbling because everyone knows I taught Joey and Kris,” Mike Bryant said in a phone interview. ”Up until this point I was just another instructor for them.”
Bryant began working with Kris every day starting when he was 5. Gallo became a pupil after his father, Tony, also a former minor leaguer, and Mike Bryant began coaching a travel team together.
There has always been a batting cage at the Bryant house.
”It was outdoors then. It’s indoors now,” Mike Bryant said.
The ”mancage,” as Mike Bryant calls it, is a perk of the $6.7 million bonus Kris Bryant received as the second pick overall in the 2013 amateur draft after his standout career at USD. Kris wanted a nice place to work out in the offseason, and it gives his dad a sweet place to give hitting lessons when he’s not working as a sales rep for a chemical company. And with the way Bryant and Gallo are hitting, business is picking up for Mike Bryant.
”I’m pretty proud of it, that I’ve been able to be a part of both of their lives and both will play in the major leagues,” Mike Bryant said. ”To put that on my resume, it’s quite an accomplishment. Again, they’re swinging the bats, not me.”
Bryant and Gallo are both 6-foot-5 third basemen. The similarities end there.
Bryant is a right-hander with a smooth swing. He went to college and won the Golden Spikes and Dick Howser awards in 2013.
Gallo is a lefty with what Mike Bryant calls a violent swing. He passed up a chance to play at LSU, going from Bishop Gorman High to pro ball after being picked by the Rangers with a first-round compensatory pick, No. 39 overall, in 2012.
Mike Bryant never advanced past A ball in his two minor league seasons. But it was long enough for him to learn Williams’ approach, which was to take a slight uppercut to square up with the downward path of the ball and hit it in the air.
”I’m just a better teacher than I am a hitter, I guess,” he said with a laugh.
Kris Bryant ”finished on every single word I told him and taught him,” his dad said. ”He was an unbelievable sponge. He just soaks it up. Not just from me, but there have been some incredible people around him along the way.”
Kris Bryant’s smooth swing comes from his dad telling him to practice at half speed, knowing that in a game, he’d be amped up.
”Joey, on the other side of it, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody swing as hard as him,” Bryant said. ”He scares the crap out of pitchers. They’ve got to think twice about what they throw him. Kris on the other hand will sneak up on them.”
Kris Bryant said his dad taught him and Gallo that if they wanted to play in the big leagues, they needed to try to hit the ball in the air rather than on the ground.
”We took it to heart to try to hit it in the air,” he said. ”Our numbers show that approach. A lot of what he’s teaching us is what he learned in his short time with Ted Williams. I think we’re getting some pretty good instruction to learn from my dad, who learned from a Hall of Famer of that caliber.”
Gallo hit a soaring two-run homer to give the U.S. a 3-2 win in the All-Star Futures Game. During batting practice, one of his drives shattered the windshield of a promotional pickup truck parked on the concourse beyond right field.
”I always give him credit for the way I can drive the ball out of the park,” Gallo said of Mike Bryant. ”We kind of worked on that swing ever since I was a little kid. I didn’t understand it, just did what he told me. Ever since I began working with him, I was hitting balls out of the park. I credit him for that.
”I mean, honestly I don’t really know where I’d be if I didn’t have those lessons. I don’t know what kind of player I’d be. They were huge for me growing up.”
Being two years apart in age and having gone to different high schools, Gallo and Bryant never played on the same team until the Futures Game.
”It’s almost surreal,” said Tony Gallo, a full-time pitching instructor in Las Vegas who once pitched in the Montreal Expos’ system. ”For the two of them to be doing what they’re doing in the home run race, and talking about how many kids are out there playing in all the leagues, and they’re two kids from Vegas, with all the connections, it’s really amazing.”
Mike Bryant’s work with Kris is pretty much finished, other than waiting for the call from his son that he’s been called up to the bigs, whether it’s this season or next.
”It’s going to be really good being a dad again,” Bryant said. ”I still can’t help myself.”
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson