CHICAGO -- Kristopher Bryant is still smiling, and why not?His team just won the World Series. He was named the National League's Most Valuable Player. And, on top of all that, he married his longtime sweetheart last weekend.A lot to smile about, right?Bryant could have been anywhere in the world
CHICAGO -- Kristopher Bryant is still smiling, and why not?
His team just won the World Series. He was named the National League's Most Valuable Player. And, on top of all that, he married his longtime sweetheart last weekend.
A lot to smile about, right?
Bryant could have been anywhere in the world this weekend, alone with his wife, Jessica. But there was only one place he wanted to be -- in Chicago for Cubs Convention, at a downtown hotel crammed beyond fire marshal standards with crazy, out-of-their-mind-with-delight Cub fans.
"This is my honeymoon,'' Bryant said on Friday night, laughing. "[Jessica] loves it. This is like our home. It's a lot of fun here. We're taking the honeymoon next offseason, hopefully after another World Series run.''
That's confidence speaking, not arrogance. But how can Bryant not be confident?
He's on one of the greatest rolls Major League Baseball has ever seen at the start of a player's career.
Baseball's not easy. But, like Michael Trout, Jose Altuve and Mookie Betts, he can certainly make it look simple. And Bryant's just getting started.
He hit .275 with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs to win Rookie of the Year in 2015. He raised his batting average to .292 and hit 39 homers in the regular season in '16, driving in 102 runs (while scoring 121).
No hitter has ever begun his career as productively -- and as dramatically -- as Bryant.
He compiled 13.6 WAR between his Rookie of the Year season and Most Valuable Player season, outdoing even Frank Robinson (13.4) and Ted Williams (13.0). The contemporary equivalent is Jose Pujols (12.1), but Bryant has experienced postseason success that would elude Pujols until his age-26 season.
Luckily for the Cubs, Bryant's appetite is far from quenched. He's been plotting ways to get better for 2017 since shortly after the dramatic Game 7 victory over the Indians.
"I want to get back to hitting the ball to right field,'' said Bryant, who turned 25 earlier this month. "In the Minor Leagues, that's where most of my power was -- to right-center.''
Bryant was criticized at times in 2016 for being pull-happy. He did hit more balls to left field than he had as a rookie but says he was merely turning on balls when pitchers made mistakes trying to pound him inside. He won't be surprised if pitchers try a different approach this year.
"I've done a lot of research this offseason, seeing where I'm pitched to,'' Bryant said. "I'm pitched inside so often. I pulled the ball really well this past year. I'm sure guys are going to start pitching me a little different. Maybe go back to the other side of the plate. That's what they did in the Minor Leagues. A lot of guys threw the ball away, and I want to get back to what I did in the Minor Leagues.''
Bryant plans to hit his family's backyard batting cage hard with his father, Mike, before reporting to Spring Training next month. "There's a lot of time left to work on things,'' he said.
But the offseason has been a whirlwind.
"It almost feels like there is no offseason,'' Bryant said. "Been on the move constantly, a lot going on. Guess that's the result of doing well. It's definitely been busy, a lot of highlights.''
He'll make time for another one Monday, when the Cubs visit the White House at President Obama's invitation.
"Obviously, we're honored,'' Bryant said. "We're obviously excited about it. When we played the Nationals [last] year, some of us got a tour. We'll get the A-plus tour this time. Huge honor. We're all very excited.''
While Bryant hasn't had much down time since the World Series, he's had time to reflect on what 2016 meant. More than anything else, winning the MVP or being a part of the first Cubs team to win he World Series since 1908, the thing he thinks about is the greatness of Game 7.
"I occasionally find myself sitting on the couch at home, not thinking about the year but just the last game, how unbelievable that was,'' Bryant said. "It's one of the best baseball games probably ever played. I feel so honored to be part of that and have those memories I can take for the rest of my career.''
One of the trademark moments from Game 7 was Bryant's expression when Cleveland's Michael Martinez hit a slow roller toward him for the game's final out.
Even then, with the weight of the 108-year drought on his shoulders, Bryant had a smile on his face. How could he smile at a time like that?
"I've been asked that so many times,'' Bryant said. "I don't remember feeling that I was smiling. I sort of make that stupid face that I do. I'm signing these baseball cards in the offseason [looking at photos of me], and I'm like, 'I can never get a good action shot.' It's so terrible. But I'm going to go with, 'Yes, I was smiling; I did it on purpose, and I'm glad I didn't throw it away.' Let's go with that story.''
Then he laughed. And smiled again.
Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com.