Golden Spikes winner. Minor league Player of the Year. Rookie of the Year. MVP. A 2017 campaign that was better in some ways than the previous. A start to 2018 that had him on pace to blow away all of his career highs. Unlike Joe Flacco, the accolades prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kris Bryant is indeed elite.
But in this instant-gratification, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, all it took for people to forget the past was a present in which Bryant battled a debilitating shoulder injury. Some saw David Bote’s heroic home runs and decided the Cubs would be better off trading their superstar while they still could. It didn’t help that ESPN’s Buster Olney made such a move seem like a real possibility.
When CI reported that Bryant was pouring himself into his offseason workouts with an intensity never before seen by those around him, people made jokes about “best shape of his life” tropes. When he went back to his old swing, some of those same people worried that his shoulder was a ticking time bomb. When he displayed that familiar easy power in the cage, people said they’d believe it when he did it in a game.
All it took was one at-bat for Bryant to shut those doubters up, and you can rest assured he’s planning to take a helluva lot more swings at that hater piñata over the course of the season.
“You know, when you’re not playing, you have a whole lot of time to kind of just sit there and either go through a Twitter rabbit hole or whatever, you start seeing things about yourself,” Bryant told members of the media* after Saturday’s opener. “And seeing things saying, ‘Trade him,’ and this and that. And I’m like, ‘All right.’ I’m motivated.
“Keep them coming. Bring it. Whatever you guys write, I try not to read it. Most of you guys are great anyway, but honestly, like I said, it’s, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ And last year I didn’t really do anything. And, sure, it was warranted, but boy did it motivate me this year. I’m excited.”
The best part about this is Bryant talking about seeing things on Twitter, then saying that he doesn’t read what the beat writers put out. And then, realizing in real time that he’d thrown a little low-key shade at them, he made sure to offer a compliment before really going in on the vengeance narrative.
“As easy as it may have seemed for me my first four years, even going back to college and high school, there’s always people that say things,” Bryant offered. “And the negative stuff always stands out more, because negativity kind of sells. People want to read that stuff. So, that’s kind of the things that really stuck out to me, but it wasn’t really the first time I’ve been doubted.
“That’s why I think I am where I’m at in terms of my abilities in baseball, because I read one thing or something and it just motivates me to just either shut that person up or prove them wrong. I’ve been doing that pretty much my whole life. So, bring it on.”
And he’s not just making stuff up about that criticism dating back to his prep days. The cutthroat Las Vegas baseball scene is populated by scouts and coaches with agendas for days, and they’ll gladly badmouth a kid who doesn’t help them further their own ends. Bryant probably won’t address that much more specifically than we saw above, but his father, Mike Bryant, shared some of his frustrations as part of a much bigger interview with CI prior to the 2017 season.
The apple may have rolled a little far from the tree when it comes to bluntness, but the younger Bryant is tapping into a little more of that intensity these days. Encountering your athletic mortality has a way of changing people, maybe allowing them to tap into previously unknown wells of ability. Not that there was anything lacking in Bryant’s game or personality in the past, but perhaps being a little pissed off and playing with a chip on his shoulder will make him even better.
And despite what some poor, misguided souls seem to believe after last season, being even better means being the best player Cubs fans have ever seen.
*This particular link is to a lengthy Medium post by Jordan Bastian, the new Cubs beat writer for MLB.com. Bastian replaced Carrie Muskat this winter and has quickly established himself as a must-follow for Cubs fans. His reports from spring have been phenomenal, whether it’s the images he captures with his SLR or the in-depth coverage across different platforms.