Relentlessly positive Bryant ready for rebound

February 15th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- ’s smile warmed a cold, drizzly day in the desert on Tuesday.

Bryant’s face showed the same joy as when he signed his seven-year, $182 million contract with the Rockies last March. More importantly, Bryant’s smile never left when an April back injury limited him to two games over a two-month period, and it was still there at the end of July when a right foot injury ended his season.

The smile last year was perfectly understandable. Bryant had a big, new contract -- one that encouraged third baseman Ryan McMahon to sign for six years and $70 million and pitcher Kyle Freeland to enlist for five years and $64 million -- and a new team with dreams of pulling a surprise. But none of his optimism matched the Rockies’ ultimate reality -- 68-94, last in the National League West.

Yet, it’s not just Bryant's smile, but the belief behind it that burns as 2023 begins.

“I’ve always tried to be the most positive person,” said Bryant, who said there haven’t been setbacks since he ended his ’22 season early to let the foot heal. “Sometimes I’m negative as a player, because that’s the nature of playing baseball. But as a person, I’m a pretty positive guy, always have a smile on my face. I don’t think there’s any kind of injury or anything on the field that can take that away from me, just because of what we do for a living. … It’s hard not to be positive when you’ve got all that going for you.

“I guess you can look at it two ways: You’ve been doing it so long and it’s hard to be positive when you can’t do it; or you can look at it as, I’ve been doing it for so long and I’ve had a generally healthy career. I had a little hiccup last year, but you can still be positive about things that have happened before.”

Most of what’s known about Bryant is from his four All-Star appearances and his NL Most Valuable Player performance with the 2016 World Series champion Cubs, and a stretch with the Giants in 2021 when they ended the Dodgers’ monopoly on the NL West at eight years. But he played just 42 games with the Rockies last season. He batted .306 and homered five times, all on the road.

Teammates remind that when Bryant was in the lineup before the All-Star break, the Rockies climbed toward .500. They finished 20-22 when he played, but the last handful of those came when his foot was compromised by a bone bruise that he believes weakened the foot, leading to the ultimate plantar fasciitis ailment.

Bryant will have to show production in a Rockies uniform. But teammates say they learned Bryant is the right guy for a team that needed a lift, even if he wasn’t able to give it on the field.

“The nature of the beast is sometimes when you’re in that situation, you don’t want to be vocal,” said Randal Grichuk, who as a Cardinal a few years back was a longtime opponent of Bryant and the Cubs. “But he was a leader in other ways. If you wanted to talk about experiences, what you’ve gone through, he’s gone through it.

“We talked expectations, the ups and downs, how he thinks offensively. Defensively, he can play anywhere. We got pretty close.”

Bryant, who plays left field, but has indicated to the Rockies that he's amenable to moving to right field or first base if roster construction dictates, can offer perspective if the move toward prospects accelerates. His experience with the Cubs suggests to him youth doesn’t have to mean losing.

“In 2015, nobody expected the Cubs to do anything,” said Bryant, who hosted parties in Spring Training and at the end of last season with his wife, Jessica, to further acquaint himself with teammates. “It was, ‘Let the young guys get up, get their feet wet.’ We ended up winning 97 games. Not predicting anything here.”

McMahon was sold when he saw a winning edge to Bryant’s positive talk.

“We had some team meetings -- during the season, at a little bad time, and I’m not sure he was even playing,” McMahon said. “He said, ‘Guys, we need to know we’re good. We are good. Stop going around wondering if we’re going to be good. Go out and carry yourselves that way.’

“Seeing that fire from him, that killer mentality, is not really something you see when you talk to him, like in the media. I was pretty excited to see that.”

“Give it a chance,” Bryant said. “The book is yet to be written -- for myself included.”