One of the highlights of Marquee Sports Network’s spring training coverage has been its in-game interviews, whether it’s coaches who don’t normally get camera time or star players who’re about to hit the showers. Assistant hitting coach Terrmel Sledge acquitted himself well early in the game, but he was eventually overshadowed by the glowing brilliance of Kris Bryant’s dad energy.
The newly minted leadoff hitter joined Marquee sideline reporter Taylor McGregor in the bottom of the 5th inning to discuss a variety of topics, the first of which was his adjustment to the top spot.
“Actually, it feels really good,” Bryant said. “I mean, I kinda like that first at-bat of the game. You know, the crowd’s loud, everybody’s into it even in spring training. It’s been pretty good, so I’m glad that [David Ross] told me before the games started so I can kinda get used to it.”
Bryant went on to explain that it’s really not much of a shift since he just needs to get ready one batter earlier. As with everything else he’s done throughout his career, including playing multiple positions across the outfield, it’s just a matter of doing what it takes to help the team.
That dynamic appears to be morphing a little this year as Bryant steps forward publicly as more of the vocal leader people rarely see him as. He told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that he is spearheading an accountability initiative that may include fines for mental errors and sloppy play, then got even more candid with McGregor.
“I just think that that last two years, we’ve always given answers as to why things didn’t go the way they were supposed to, and then we do a lot of talking and we don’t really act on it,” Bryant admitted. “And sometimes it’s understandable just because there’s so many games and guys are exhausted, but we want to be where we want to be at the end of the year.
“I think myself and everybody on the team, we’re gonna have to do a better job of just talking to each other [about] what’s going on, just picking somebody up here and there. I’m not saying we haven’t done that, we just need to do a better job of it.”
Before anyone starts shaking their fists at clouds or yelling at the kids who dared walk on their lawn, yes, we all understand that these are grown-ass men who must bear personal responsibility for their actions. No one is saying they can’t or shouldn’t, so let’s just make that clear. However, just about the entire core group that remains from the World Series team had been brought into a culture in which personal accountability may not have been stressed to a great degree.
Starting in 2015, when Bryant and others debuted, it quickly became an accepted reality that you could roll the ball out there and win 95+ games. The Cubs weren’t just talented, they had a seemingly perfect mix of veteran know-how and youthful naivete. Success coming as quickly as it did was a testament to their skill and harmony, but it was fleeting because they didn’t really know how to properly foster or maintain it.
As much as the Cubs like to talk about having their players learn from adversity, none of the younger guys had truly ever experienced it. However, the last two seasons have forced a paradigm shift that led to a regime change and a great deal of introspection. This is no longer a collection of fresh-faced rookies who don’t know any better, nor is the manager taking a hands-off approach. As their responsibilities and priorities have shifted, those same Cubs who only knew winning now know — like, really know and not just suspect — that it’s damn hard to stay on top.
It’s funny how life has a way of changing your perspective over time, and that certainly appears to be the case with Bryant. The 28-year-old decided a few years ago to take responsibility for his teammates by becoming the Cubs’ union rep, but now he’s preparing for an entirely different type of challenge.
Already possessed of a permanent grin under the most mundane circumstances, Bryant lights up like the Vegas Strip when asked about being a father. Heck, he was rocking a baby blue mitt Friday night in honor of his first child, a son due in early April. He credited the preparation for parenthood with helping him tune out all the noise from his drawn-out grievance hearing and swirling trade rumors, and that renewed focus should continue into the regular season.
“Honestly, I think this is what I’ve been put on this earth to do, is to be a dad,” Bryant gushed. “Obviously I play baseball pretty good, but I’m just so excited [for] this new journey with my wife and my family and everybody’s so excited.
“Honestly, I just think this is gonna be one of the best years of my life.”