New-look Cubs take opener over Rox as Bryant reminisces

April 15th, 2022

DENVER -- Kris Bryant's reunion with the Cubs on Thursday was not nearly as emotionally charged as last September. Tears were shed during that return trip to Wrigley Field as he watched a video highlighting all of his hype and heroics with the franchise.

This time, Bryant met with reporters inside the Coors Field home clubhouse in the hours leading up to the Cubs' 5-2 win over the Rockies. After last season's trade sent him to San Francisco, the former Chicago icon signed a seven-year, $182 pact to star in Colorado's lineup. He had long since come to terms with the period placed on his Chicago years.

"I know where I'm going to be," Bryant said. "And I don't have to hear any rumors or any of that. There is a peace in that. But I guess I kind of got over those feelings last year when I did get traded."

The Cubs will be forever grateful for the chapters that Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez wrote in the team's history books. That goes without saying, given their part in ending Chicago's 108-year World Series drought. But, the Cubs have also turned the page, as the club looks to construct and identify a new core, helped by the trades involving that trio last summer.

The Cubs team that arrived to Denver for this four-game series looks nothing like the group that Bryant left when he was dealt at last year's Trade Deadline. That does not mean there are not good stories, though. Even Bryant recognized that part of the situation.

"Everybody's new, but that's good," Bryant said. "I think that's great for the fans. I think it kind of gives them a chance to find a new favorite or someone to root for."

Thursday's win for the Cubs provided a few examples, too:

• Lefty Justin Steele, who is one of Chicago's homegrown arms trying to end the narrative that the Cubs struggle to develop pitching, blanked the Rockies for four innings. That ran his career-best scoreless innings streak to 16, dating back to last season, before he ran into trouble in a two-run fifth inning. Two more Cubs draftees (Ethan Roberts and Keegan Thompson) followed out of the bullpen.

• Slugger Seiya Suzuki -- signed to a five-year, $85 million contract during the spring -- continued his strong start to the season. After compiling nine RBIs in his first five career games (a franchise record), the outfielder connected for an RBI double that capped off a three-run first inning. He is the first Cubs player to have 10 RBIs in his first 22 or fewer plate appearances to start a career (since RBIs became a stat in 1920).

• First baseman Frank Schwindel, who thrived for the Cubs (1.002 OPS) last season as Rizzo's replacement, launched an opposite-field solo homer in the sixth. It marked his first blast of the season as he looks to prove his '21 breakout campaign was not a fluke. He finished with two hits and a pair of RBIs.

"Organizations go through changes over time," Bryant explained. "And they seem to have a lot of great guys and people to root for, and that makes me happy."

Bryant acknowledged that there were "very preliminary" talks about returning to the Cubs, but via short-term scenarios. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has outlined his vision for building "the next great Cubs team," which did not include spending big in free agency on longer contracts.

The Cubs remain focused on building up their farm system, while trying to field a competitive team in the present. Signings like Suzuki and Marcus Stroman (three years, $71 million) attempt to help accomplish the latter, while not working against the longer-term planning.

The Rockies had the long-term contract Bryant had earned.

"You work so hard to get to this point in your baseball career," said Bryant, who added later that he hopes he can help Colorado "rewrite a lot of history here, just like we did in Chicago."

That will be a tall task, given all that followed Bryant since being selected with the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. He was the National League Rookie of the Year (2015), NL MVP ('16), a four-time All-Star and author of the final out to clinch the '16 World Series.

"[I] got to watch him grow from a prospect," manager David Ross said, "to the player he is and MVP, and all the things he's done as a teammate. And then getting to manage him. He's a pretty great human being and, obviously, a special ballplayer."

Bryant finished 2-for-5 in this latest reunion with the Cubs. There were a few fans wearing Bryant's Cubs jersey in the stands, and the "Let's go Cubbies!" chants drowned out the Rockies chants at moments during the game.

"I don't know if that chapter will ever close until I'm done playing baseball," said Bryant of his Cubs years.