Kris Bryant grins as he cuts off an interviewer’s question, shuffles over to a batting screen and slides behind it at Las Vegas Ballpark in Downtown Summerlin—a reaction to the loud thump he just heard during fellow local pro baseball player Drew Robinson’s nearby batting practice session.
“I’m going to protect myself,” Bryant tells a small group of media members with a laugh.
Bryant, one of the most decorated athletes ever to come out of Las Vegas, seems to be enjoying the informal February 11 practice session—noteworthy considering that last month, he admitted to “at times” not having as much fun on the diamond recently as he did when he was younger.
The Chicago Cubs’ third baseman and former National League MVP took exception to ESPN turning his candid, complex comments from a podcast appearance into a story, and the latest round of debate surrounding the 29-year-old took off from there. Lost amid the fallout, however, is this: Bryant seems to have recaptured the thrill heading into the 2021 Major League Baseball season.
“I have a great peace of mind now,” says Bryant, who’s been working out all across the Valley—from the Aviators’ ballpark to the batting cage at his father’s house—as he prepares to leave for the Cubs’ Mesa, Arizona, spring training on February 21. “I’m ready to go play. That’s where I want to be.”
The Bonanza High graduate faces a pivotal season coming off the worst year of his career. Bryant hit for a .206 average with just four home runs and 11 RBIs while missing 22 games during the pandemic-shortened campaign. He was known for his durability during three straight All-Star seasons to begin his time in the majors, but injuries have since started to sideline him more frequently. But, in addition to last year’s recurring oblique ailment, he has also missed time with finger, wrist, knee and shoulder issues since 2018.
Bryant is set to enter free agency for the first time after this season, but many presume he won’t make it there with the Cubs. He has been the subject of trade rumors for the past several years, and they’ve resurfaced heading into training camp, with the New York Mets regarded as a potential landing spot.
Bryant says he has come to accept the reality that he might move on from the only franchise he’s known. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, and few envisioned him in another uniform after he led Chicago to its first World Series title in 108 years during his 2016 MVP season.
“It’s really a day-by-day thing, because things change so quick in the game and opinions change and stories come out, but they’re a nonstory,” Bryant says about possibly playing for another team. “It’s hard to be in this position, but I guess I can say I’m enjoying it a little bit more because I have things in my life that are more enjoyable now. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever team I’m on—and hopefully it’s the Chicago Cubs for the rest of my career; I’ve always said that—I’m always going to go out there and give it all I’ve got.”
Bryant and his wife, Jessica, welcomed their first child, son Kyler, in April 2020, and Bryant says fatherhood has helped his offseason mentality. He used to stay plugged in to all the latest baseball news, particularly all the speculation regarding his own future, but he says he has disconnected for the past several months in an effort to spend more time with his family. Aside from his own training, he has stayed away from sports entirely, not even watching the Raiders in their first season here.
Bryant says he still puts pressure on himself to perform up to his standards, but he has a new perspective heading into his seventh season. “It’s easy to get caught up in expectations, but there are much more important things,” he says. “That’s kind of where my head is at.
“It’s not like you don’t care; it’s just that maybe you cared too much. I have a lot more to play for now, and it’s a really nice feeling.”
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.