MESA, Ariz. — Thursday morning, National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant went back to school — for a day. Conspiring with head coach Tony Cirelli at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, the two tricked the Thunderbirds baseball team into believing that the All-Star third baseman was a hot-shot transfer.
At the beginning of an average practice day, Cirelli told the team that a transfer player, set to arrive shortly, was likely going to be penciled into the starting lineup. Cirelli and his staff were tremendous plotters and pulled off the prank with ease.
“He’s a big donkey, he’s got crazy power,” the coach told his team. ”He can help us. Guys who are pitching are going to lose some innings. Guys who are hitting are going to lose at-bats. If he gets us to Oklahoma [for the College World Series] and we win another ring, no one’s going to be complaining.”
If he gets us to Oklahoma [for the College World Series] and we win another ring, no one’s going to be complaining.Tony Cirelli, Mesa CC baseball coach
Cirelli also explained that the kid was a “late in-season arrival from Europe due to visa problems.” Needless to say, some players weren’t thrilled to hear that they might be losing their starting spots. As the team began its everyday drills, everyone anxiously awaited the arrival of the new stud. Players went out to the outfield for stretching and throwing, and began to whisper among themselves.
In case you're wondering how cameras captured all this drama without the players realizing something was fishy, we'll clue you in on the alibi. The camera crew was there all week as "part of Mesa Community College’s video team doing a feature on the school and program."
Microphones picked up the nervous conversations as players awaited the new guy's arrival. After about 20 minutes of practice, in entered Bryant. Using the alias of Roy Nabryt ("Roy" is short for Rookie of the Year and "Nabryt" is Bryant scrambled), the major leaguer made his way to the field after hiding in a nearby RV where he got dressed and into character.
Wearing standard practice gear, Roy was greeted by an assistant coach who handed him a team hat and was told to jump straight into the hitting group. Since the other players were dispersed all over the field, no one could get a good look at the new kid’s face – all they could tell was that he was one big dude! Roy put on a batting helmet, took some practice swings and jumped into the batter’s box for some swings. Roy proceeded to first bunt a few balls, as is standard procedure in batting practice. As he loosened up, line drives began to explode off his bat as stunned players looked on.
This continued for about 10 minutes, and then coach yelled to all the players to move to their next drill stations. But Roy was asked to stay in the hitting group a bit longer, of course. Coach also threw in a zinger that facial hair was now OK for the team, catering to Roy, which really ticked off the other players. (Historically, the players know that facial hair has never been allowed on the team.) This was part of the master plan in getting the players riled up!
Roy then began powering up and hit several home runs, including one that almost hit a cell phone tower.
As the players continued staring in awe at the transfer, Cirelli decided to officially unveil the gag, rounding everyone up to formally introduce Chicago third baseman Kris Bryant aka Roy Nabryt.
Watch the video to see how the prank unfolded.
After all was unveiled, the group crowded around Bryant for high-fives and pictures, and he talked to them before having to say goodbye and head off to his real spring training game.
He told them, “Good luck this year. Hope you get another ring. Hopefully I get a ring, too.”
Good luck this year. Hope you get another ring. Hopefully I get a ring, too.Kris Bryant
Winners of 18 national championships, the Mesa baseball team has a tradition of producing big-league players including Hubie Brooks, Shea Hillenbrand, Mickey Hatcher, Ken Phelps and Pat Darcy. Kris Bryant can now be semi-officially added to that list.