Already, Reds fans are chanting 'Bruuuuuuce'
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By Hal McCoy
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
CINCINNATI — He looks like the kid down the street, the one with the impish grin and the slingshot tucked into his back pocket, just searching for mischief.
Jay Bruce turned 21 little more than a month ago, barely legal to drink a Bud Light. And yet some fans consider this 6-foot-3, 205-pound bundle of baseball talent a human crane who will hoist the Cincinnati Reds upon his broad shoulders and carry them to heavenly days and heavenly nights.
And he teased and tantalized Tuesday in his major-league debut with three hits and two walks, turning on the fans even more than they were turned on by his mere presence.
On his fifth plate appearance, Bruce scorched a laser that nearly took off the right fielder's head before thunking against the wall for a double.
There is no big red 'S' on his jersey, just a wishbone 'C' like everybody else. He doesn't wear a cape, just batting gloves like everybody else.
Advice to everybody: Leave him alone, let him play, place no anvils on his back.
For this one night, though, can you say The Natural? Can you say Phee-nom?
Manager Dusty Baker has seen a slew of major-league debuts, but calls Bruce's, "As good as I've ever seen. He looked right at home and he has been looking forward to this for a long time. He made his debut well-documented. You see why he is so highly touted and picked up here where he left off in Triple-A."
While some consider him the savior, the Midwest Messiah, Baker considers him another piece in an evolving puzzle of a young baseball team, albeit an extremely talented piece.
"He is not the savior," said Baker. "We just want him to be himself. Just let him play and be himself — no labels on him, no comparisons. Let's just let him play, you know?"
There is no doubt about Bruce's make-up — and it has nothing to do with Revlon or Cover Girl or Mary Kay.
"He is a confident young man and he is a bright young man," said Baker. "And very competitive. I'm going to protect him some, but not a whole bunch. He's going to play most of the time. Maybe not against some tough lefty, we'll see. Right now, it is, 'Go play.' "
When Bruce stepped into the batter's box in the first inning, the miniscule crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted, "Bruuuuuuce, Bruuuuuuce." Then he walked on four pitches and was on the back end of a double steal but was stranded at second base when Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion struck out.
So the legend begins, a young kid thinking about replacing a legend in Griffey.
"That was one of my goals as a kid," he said. "I wanted to play with Griffey and it has come true," even if his first glimpse was while he stood on second base and Griffey whiffed.
A star in the making, a star is born or is he already a star that had to shine over Louisville before he could shine over Cincinnati?
Said Baker, "I'm glad he is here. He deserves this opportunity because he earned it. That's what I like. We asked him (in spring training) to go down and play hard and work on his skills, and that's what he did. I hope he is here for a long, long time and I get to see him play and develop and get better and better."
Bruce wore a face full of shaving cream pie after the game and said, "You couldn't write it any better. Savior? Everybody knows there is not one player who can make a team a winner. It is a collective effort.
"We have the right people and I'm excited to be part of it," he said. "I had a blast and I hope there is more to come. It's all pretty surreal."
Somebody asked Bruce who pie-faced him and he looked at Griffey, who said, "I didn't do it, but I know and I can be bribed."
"What can he be bribed with?" asked Bruce.
Jay Bruce By The Numbers
21, 54 — Age, in years and days, on his major-league debut Tuesday
.364 — Batting average in 49 games for Class AAA Louisville this season
1.000 —ĘBatting average after his debut game with the Reds. He was 3-for-3 with two walks, two singles, a double, two RBIs, two runs scored and a stolen base.
30 — Scouts who attended each of his games as a high school senior