Worth the wait: Cubs promote Kris Bryant for Wrigley Field debut

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Worth the wait: Cubs promote Kris Bryant for Wrigley Field debut

The wait is over.

The Cubs are promoting Kris Bryant from Triple-A Iowa, according to a source familiar with the situation, and will unveil their biggest prospect on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field against James Shields and the San Diego Padres.

“Today I got to tell my family that my dream is coming true,” Bryant posted on his personal Twitter account late Thursday night. “Can’t really put into words what that feels like. So excited for this journey!”

So ends Bryant Watch, an entertaining back-and-forth involving super-agent Scott Boras, the Major League Baseball Players Association, commissioner Rob Manfred, Theo Epstein’s front office and what seemed like just about anyone with a Twitter account.

It got to the point near the end of spring training where $155 million Opening Day starter Jon Lester could get a Bryant question and say: “That’s not my decision. That’s above my pay grade.”

[Kris Bryant Tracker: The wait is over]

The timing certainly works for the Cubs, exactly crossing off the 12 days needed to gain an extra year of club control over Bryant, who can now play almost seven full seasons on the North Side before becoming a free agent after the 2021 campaign.

It’s just business. Boras Corp. will never forget that.

But baseball reasons also forced the issue now with Bryant, Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect. Third baseman Mike Olt is heading to the disabled list after an MRI revealed a hairline fracture of his right wrist, a team source said Thursday night.

What if Olt hadn’t been drilled by a 96-mph fastball last weekend at Coors Field? Infielder Tommy La Stella (rib cage) is already on the disabled list and the Cubs have been scrambling for third-base options.

Ideally, the Cubs probably would have liked to see Bryant, 23, debut on the road, in less of a circus atmosphere. (Think next week in Pittsburgh.) But these circumstances appear to have accelerated the timeline and provided some cover. Too bad the Wrigley Field bleachers aren’t open yet.

This lineup should get a jolt from Bryant, who put up 43 homers, 110 RBI and a 1.098 OPS last season in the minors. He then blasted nine homers in 40 Cactus League at-bats. But the service-time math essentially guaranteed he wouldn’t break camp with the big-league team.

[MORE: Joe Maddon will manage the great expectations for Kris Bryant]

That specific language in the collective bargaining agreement has really been the only thing that’s slowed down Bryant on his fast track to The Show.

“What I always do is put myself in the guy’s shoes,” manager Joe Maddon said as the Bryant hype escalated in spring training. “What was my brain like at that age? What was I capable of handling at that age?

“He’s got me beat by so much right now, what I would have done or how I would have been able to handle all this at that moment. It’s not easy. There’s so many things coming at you from so many different directions. I think he’s done a wonderful job.”

The Cubs drafted Bryant No. 2 overall in 2013 and gave him a $6.7 million signing bonus. At the University of San Diego, he had become a Rhodes Scholarship candidate and won the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball’s Heisman Trophy. That same year, he earned MVP honors in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.

Bryant grew up in Las Vegas, playing with and against Bryce Harper, a future All-Star for the Washington Nationals. Bryant’s father, Mike, had played minor-league ball for the Boston Red Sox, and would teach local kids what he learned from the legendary Ted Williams: Hit your pitch. Hit it hard. Hit it in the air.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Bryant hit a three-run homer during Thursday’s 10-7 win in New Orleans, where rain washed out the second game of a scheduled doubleheader. After the initial disappointment, he didn’t lose his edge or his focus with Iowa, hitting .321 with three homers and 10 RBI in seven games.

The Cubs went 5-3 during Bryant’s Triple-A holding pattern and are now tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. Wrigleyville will be rocking.

With Chicago hoping for deep playoff runs from the Bulls and Blackhawks, the city is talking about baseball again, expecting a new star to arrive.

Adidas had already ramped up the marketing campaign before Opening Night, putting his image on an Addison Street billboard across from Wrigley Field, promising Bryant will be “WORTH THE WAIT.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: The making of Reign Men

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Cubs Talk Podcast: The making of Reign Men

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull sits down with CSN executive producers Ryan McGuffey and Sarah Lauch, the creators of 'Reign Men: The Story Behind Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, which premieres March 27 at 9:30 p.m. on CSN.

McGuffey and Lauch share their experience making the 52-minute documentary as they sifted through hours of sound from the likes of Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and more recapping one of the greatest baseball games ever played.

Plus, hear a sneak peak of 'Reign Men’ as Heyward and Epstein describe their perspective of the Rajai Davis game-tying homer and that brief rain delay that led to Heyward’s epic speech.

Check out the latest Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs president Theo Epstein showed zero interest in playing along with Fortune magazine putting him on the cover and ranking him No. 1 on the list of "The World's 50 Greatest Leaders," or two spots ahead of Pope Francis.

"The pope didn't have as good of a year," manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday, channeling Babe Ruth.

Epstein essentially bit his tongue, responding to reporters with a copy-and-paste text message that reflected his self-awareness and PR savvy. 

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house," Epstein wrote. "The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball – a pastime involving a lot of chance. If (Ben) Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. 

"And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Epstein obviously has a big ego. No one becomes the youngest general manager in baseball history and builds three World Series winners without a strong sense of confidence and conviction. But he genuinely tries to deflect credit, keep a relatively low profile and stay focused on the big picture. 

Fortune's cover art became an older image of Epstein standing at the dugout, surrounded by reporters during a Wrigley Field press gaggle. (This was not Alex Rodriguez kissing a mirror during a magazine photo shoot.) The text borrowed from Tom Verducci's upcoming "The Cubs Way" book. 
 
Fortune still hit an Internet sweet spot and generated a lot of buzz, ranking Epstein ahead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (No. 4), Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (No. 7) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (No. 10).

"I'm all about the pope," Maddon said. "Sorry, Pope Francis. We're buds. I'd like to meet him someday. But after all, what we did last year was pretty special. 

"Has the pope broken any 108-year-old curses lately?"

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Cubs tickets right here!]

Epstein also ended an 86-year drought for the Boston Red Sox, putting the finishing touches on the immortal 2004 team and winning another championship in 2007 with eight homegrown players. 

No matter how the Cubs try to airbrush history now, that five-year plan featured lucky breaks, unexpected twists and turns and payroll frustrations as the franchise went from 101 losses in 2012 to 103 wins last season. But even after the biggest party Chicago has ever seen, no team in baseball is better positioned for the future. And there is no doubt that Epstein is a Hall of Fame executive.  

"He's very good at setting something up and then permitting people to do their jobs," Maddon said. "That's the essence of good leadership, the ability to delegate well. But then he also has the tough conversations. 

"He sees both sides. I've talked about his empathy before. I think that sets him apart from a lot of the young groups that are leading Major League Baseball teams right now. You know if you have to talk to him about something, he's got an open ear and he's going to listen to what you say. He's not going to go in there predetermined. 

"You can keep going on and on, him just obviously being very bright, brilliant actually. He's got so many great qualities about him. But he leads well, I think, primarily because of his empathy."

That blend of scouting and analytics, open-minded nature and pure guts led to the Cubs: drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber; trading for Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Addison Russell and almost their entire bullpen; and signing transformative free agents like Jon Lester and Zobrist.            

Chairman Tom Ricketts locked up Epstein before the playoffs started last October with a five-year extension believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $50 million. Arrieta didn't laugh off the Fortune rankings.

"It just shows you all the positive that's he done," Arrieta said. "Not only here, but beforehand in Boston and what he's built for himself and for the city of Boston and the city of Chicago. It's hard to understate what he means to the organization."