Over his seven seasons with Chicago, Kris Bryant ventured over to the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field only once.
The jaunt happened during Summer Camp last year, when the Cubs spread their players across both locker rooms to comply with social distancing guidelines amid the pandemic. A curious Bryant wandered over to check out the famously cramped facilities, which had undergone some recent upgrades, but still didn’t compare to the amenities Cubs players enjoyed on the home side.
“I could not imagine what it was like before that,” Bryant said. “It’s newly renovated. They did a good job for the space that they had. I didn’t get to see it then. I’m kind of bummed I didn’t.”
Bryant will have more time to familiarize himself with that space this weekend, when he returns to Wrigley Field to face his former club for the first time since being traded to the Giants at the July 30 Trade Deadline.
“I think it’s going to be a big moment for him,” San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler said. “I’m certain that Cubs fans think the world of Kris. I’m sure he’s going to be showered with a lot of appreciation. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. He’s earned that, and he deserves it.”
Drafted by the Cubs with the second overall pick in 2013, Bryant developed into a franchise cornerstone in Chicago, where he became the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2016 NL MVP Award winner and a four-time All-Star.
Bryant became one of the biggest stars among a foundational group of players who helped the Cubs end their 108-year World Series drought in 2016, but that core ended up being dismantled as the franchise sought to bring in a fresh wave of young talent to jumpstart another rebuild this year. After trading Anthony Rizzo to the Yankees and Javier Báez to the Mets, the Cubs dealt Bryant to the Giants in exchange for prospects Alexander Canario and Caleb Kilian.
With the Cubs on the road at the time, Bryant didn’t get a chance to get a proper sendoff from fans in Chicago, but he said he’s looking forward to officially closing that chapter of his life this weekend.
“I felt like the trade was going to happen eventually,” Bryant said. “From the very beginning of the season, there was a lot of talk of it. And it finally happened, and obviously, being on the road, I had to get here and there was a lot of stuff going on. I didn’t really get that closure, so it is nice to go back so quickly and kind of say bye to some of the people that I didn’t get to say bye to. The workers, the staff at the field, the security. The people that made mine and my family’s lives so much easier over the years. Those are probably the people that are more important to say thank you to because they don’t get the recognition that they deserve.”
Bryant said he’s already received plenty of texts from former teammates and staff members who are looking forward to seeing him, though he won’t be able to catch up with Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer or manager David Ross, who are expected to miss the series after testing positive for COVID-19.
Despite their significant roster turnover this summer, the Cubs have won eight of their last nine games and will send right-hander Kyle Hendricks to the mound in Friday afternoon’s series opener. The Giants, who are down to three starters after losing Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto to injuries, will counter with a bullpen game.
“I look at the team, and it’s kind of a new team,” Bryant said of the Cubs. “They’re all establishing their identity. They’ve had some ups recently and some downs, but honestly, it’s been pretty cool to see from afar, some new guys stepping up and the fans appreciating them.”
Why didn’t it work out for Bryant to spend his entire career with the Cubs?
“I don’t know if I have that answer yet,” Bryant said. “I’ve always thought when I’m retired and sitting on my couch reflecting on my career, I’ll have an answer to that. All I can really say is that the six, seven years in Chicago were some of the best of my life. Definitely tons of ups and certainly some downs in terms of some of the stories and things that were out there. But that will never change my opinion of what I feel about the city, the people, the organization.”
A long-term extension wasn’t in the cards with the Cubs, but Bryant could still end up landing that type of deal with the Giants, who view the 29-year-old slugger as a perfect fit for their roster because of his defensive versatility and his potent right-handed bat. Bryant, an impending free agent, has been as advertised so far, batting .265 with an .815 OPS and six home runs over 31 games to help the first-place Giants continue their push for the coveted NL West crown down the stretch.
“Hearing the rumors of the Giants and coming here, I just thought that’d be the best-case scenario for me to go somewhere where I can thrive and just be myself,” Bryant said. “Everything has worked out so great so far. The team is winning and proving a lot of people wrong. I just find it funny that this team was projected to win, whatever, 75 games. Now we have a chance to win 100. That just goes to show you that projections and things like that don’t matter.”