Kris Bryant might be the perfect baseball player. Not only is he capable of putting up monster offensive numbers, but he does it while playing all over the field. Add the striking good looks, complete with a set of Paul Newman baby blues, that have made him the face of several national ad campaigns. Oh, and did I mention he’s humble?
Perhaps best of all, at least for Cubs fans, Bryant isn’t satisfied with any of it and knows he can and should get even better. He discussed that desire and what drives it, among other things, when he joined ESPN 1000’s Carmen and Jurko Thursday morning from Mesa.
“I think I can get better (in) every area of my game just because I’m never satisfied. I can think of plenty of times last year where I was frustrated after games because I did certain things that I didn’t want to do. I’m more so looking at that stuff rather than, ‘I want to have a higher batting average’ or ‘more home runs,’ that type of thing.
“I think if you’re focused on the other stuff that (isn’t) really statistical, you’ll end up where you want to be at the end of the year. That’s my approach and I’m never going to really be complacent or satisfied with anything I do on the field.”
If you’d like a little more detail on exactly what he’s focusing on this season, check out the interview we did with his father, Mike Bryant. There’s some really great stuff in there on not only adjustments heading into this year, but those the transcendent player has made at every level along the way.
Bryant’s answer to how he and his teammates can maintain the proper mindset and remain focused heading into their title defense was telling. There’s obviously the desire to recapture the glory of a World Series win, but I think there’s a bit of relief in knowing that the drought is over.
“Just looking at it from my perspective, I think it’s going to be really easy. Probably easier just because we won the whole thing last year and when you feel that feeling you just want to do it again. So that’s where I see the motivation coming from and…we’re all ready to go, but just a little more confident and more relaxed out there.”
Perhaps my favorite part of the interview was when Bryant was asked about where he prefers playing. Not that you’d expect him to come out and grumble or demand that he stay at third base or anything, but the sincerity with which he expresses the willingness to do whatever it takes is eye-opening. In a world where athletes give stock answers drawn from a limited series of tropes and idioms, this kid breaks the mold.
“I don’t care one bit (about what position I play). For me, it’s kind of what I’ve always done. When I started playing the game, I was always all over the field, so I don’t care one bit. I just got a first baseman’s glove today, so if Anthony (Rizzo) decides to take a couple days off I’ll go over there. It doesn’t matter to me. And that’s something I really take pride in, and I believe that the game is kind of going that way.
“There’s always areas to improve and I’m never going to be perfect. Hopefully I’m never perfect because that’s impossible to get to. I’m never complacent with that, I’m always out there working. Seems to be the focus this year might be more third base, so I’m making sure that I get my reps over there to continue to get better and hopefully I continue to do that throughout my whole career.”
Though he’s not possessed of the outwardly fiery personality we see in some of his teammates, Bryant is no less driven to succeed. Some of that comes from slights, whether past or present, particularly when it comes to his defense.
“All the way back to high school, nobody ever talked about (my defense), I was just a power hitter. All that stuff motivates me to be better…and I’ve seen a ton of improvement in that area and I hope there’s many more factors that motivate me in the future.”
The tone of the interview changed a bit when Bryant was asked about MLB’s crackdown on rookie hazing, a topic that has been somewhat charged.
“I guess it’s kind of a touchy subject there, but I think as players you kind of look forward to that day. As embarrassed as you might be, it’s just kind of like you’ve made it to the big leagues. These guys are doing this because they care about you and they want you to be able to take it to the next step there. Sure, there’s ways that it can happen now in terms of getting guys out of their comfort zone and…it’ll be interesting to see how it goes this year, but there’s definitely going to be something going on. Maybe a little looser.”
That’s about as well as you can answer it, really, at least for someone in his position. The Cubs have generally done a pretty good job of not getting too demeaning with such stunts, though they’re probably better known for the team-wide dress-up trips Joe Maddon masterminds throughout the season.
“We do it a lot, but we’re travelling all the time so any time we get a trip like that it’s fun. It takes your mind off things and I feel like the game’s kind of changing — or Joe (Maddon) might be changing it — in terms of guys always wearing suits, which I never really got. And thankfully I never had to really experience that.
“Nobody sees us when we’re travelling, so it’s kind of weird to be dressing up nice. It’s kind of fun to goof around with the guys and wear onesies and these crazy, zany suits or whatever he calls it, but I enjoy it every time and hopefully we have a bunch more of those this year.”
As for suggestions on the next trip:
“I think Star Wars would be a good one.”
Wait, does that mean we’ve got to start calling him KB Wan Kenobi?
I’m not sure whether Bryant’s midichlorian count is high enough for him to actually manipulate the force, but he’s definitely embraced the “Do or do not, there is no try” mentality. And he’s only now starting to realize his full potential, a scary thought for opposing teams.
Think about it: dude is named the best player at pretty much every level along the way and he’s not satisfied. I think we’re in for another fun summer on the North Side, folks.