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Levine: Kris Bryant Keeps Ernie Banks In Mind On His Big Day

By Bruce Levine--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The much-anticipated arrival of Cubs phenom Kris Bryant came to fruition on a beautiful, sunny Friday in Chicago. At Wrigley Field, you could almost hear the late Ernie Banks whispering to Bryant about playing two on his first day as big league player at the friendly confines, smiling all the while with that charm of his.

Being a rookie without an MLB at-bat yet, Bryant's certainly a far cry from Banks and his stature at this point and time. Looking back 62 years to Banks' debut, nobody really knew what to expect from Mr. Cub, and one can only guess what pressure and anticipation was like for the first black player in team history. The fan base must have been curious, if not excited, when Banks was sold to Chicago by the Kansas City Monarchs in September 1953.

Bryant pulled out some of the Banks jargon in spring training when he was faced with a trip back to the minor leagues.

"Hey, I get to play baseball for a living," Bryant told me in late March. "My perspective is that the sun is out, I am playing a game that I love and I an happy."

Those sentiments alone would have made Banks smile today if he were still here.

"Kris and I are so sad Ernie Banks passed away," said Mike Bryant, Kris' father. "This would be even more amazing having him here. Luckily, Kris and I met him once. What an honor that was."

Bryant had his first media session ate Friday morning, with tons of cameras and TV types added to the daily mix of beat people and bloggers. He talked after taking batting practice and getting just three hours of sleep in flying in Friday morning from New Orleans, where the Triple-A Iowa Cubs had been.

Bryant will wear uniform No. 17 to honor his father, who wore that number when he played.

Bryant remembered well his brief encounter with Banks.

"I met Ernie once," he said. "Just talking to him, you don't really realize who you are talking to.  You then start to here stories about him not only being  a great player but an even better person. That is what is important to me. I try to be an even better person than I am a player. That is more important to me. Coming here and following in the footsteps of (Banks), it's a huge honor to know he wore (this Cubs uniform) before me. I am ready to put it on and make him proud."

Knowing Banks, he would be proud of Bryant for sure.  Now there's just 512 home runs and  attitude to match Banks' greatness.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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