LOS ANGELES — The Jackie Robinson Stadium crowd held its breath during the sixth inning of Sunday afternoon’s game between Cal Poly and San Diego.
San Diego, the No. 3 seed in the Los Angeles Regional, led the second-seeded Mustangs 6-4 and needed to hold on to the win in order to advance to the championship game. It was just as if Hollywood scripted it when Kris Bryant, the Toreros’ record-breaking slugger and Lousiville Slugger National Player of the Year stepped up to the plate.
With just one out and the bases loaded, he the big right-handed third baseman dug in…
And struck out.
Westwood is just a few miles out of the reach of Hollywood. There would be no grand slam, scripted ending. The Toreros were eventually eliminated later that night by No. 1 seed UCLA. It ended a prolific career for Bryant.
“This was the best decision I made in my life to come to USD,” Bryant said. “Tonight was more than just a baseball game for me. Looking back I can’t even tell you how special it was.”
Bryant is considered the best position player in the upcoming MLB Draft. He has been ranked as high as No. 1 and low as No. 5. It’s most likely he will be the third player taken after Stanford’s Mark Appel and Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray.
Bryant is said to have the potential to be a once in a generation talent and a true five-tool player.
But over three days in Westwood, he was relatively quiet. There 31-homer firepower was absent and his only two hits never even made it out of the infield.
“I felt they were pitching me tough (all weekend),” Bryant said. “I didn’t have the weekend I wanted to and I didn’t really help my team the way I wanted to.
“We’ll see what happens in my future. I’m just kind of at a loss for words right now.”
Give credit where credit is due — Bryant was never pitched around. Three different teams threw right at him and he took those pitches. Bryant managed to find ways on base in three of four games, as is evidenced by his two runs, four walks and a hit by a pitch.
“I strike out sometimes,” Bryant said. “I don’t feel like I have to go out there every time and get a hit, because I don’t.”
It was a rare down weekend for a player who has done nothing but dazzle in his prolific three-year college career.
Bryant’s 31 homers not only lead Division I, but it’s nine more than Elon’s Ryan Kinsella, who is second with 20 and plays in the Southern Conference – a league not as strong as the West Coast Conference.
If that isn’t enough here’s an eye-opening number – he’s hit more round trippers than 222 D-I teams. Not only that, he did it with a heavily restricted composite bat. In 2011, the NCAA placed new restrictions on metal bats in an attempt to make them as close to wood as possible. The result was a decrease in offense.
Bryant led the team with nine homers as a freshman that year.
“This year it’s just blossomed,” said San Diego coach Rich Hill. “I mean 31 homeruns with a BBCOR bat is just ridiculous. The fact that he can play third base at the major league level now is ridiculous. The fact that he can go first-to-third, second-to-home in the blink of an eye is ridiculous…
“The scary thing is, he keeps getting better. I’ve watched this thing from day one to now, what’s it going to be like three years from now when he shaves more than once every two weeks?”
Hill remains close friends with San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh from Harbaugh’s days as the Toreros’ football coach. Harbaugh and Hill liken Bryant to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
“It’s like when he used to describe Andrew Luck,” Hill said. “It’s kind of a too good to be true kind of story. His character is off the charts, he’s a great student, he’s a tireless worker and physically, he’s a five-tool player.”
Bryant’s lackluster weekend likely won’t deter any teams. Come Thursday, his performance in the postseason, as well as his Torero days, will be all behind him, and Bryant will be made a cornerstone player of one lucky major league organization.