How becoming a father might lead to the best version of Kris Bryant yet
Kris Bryant could nearly fill up a whole room of his career accomplishments playing baseball:
—World Series champion (2016)
—NL MVP (2016)
—NL Rookie of the Year (2015)
—3-time All-Star (2015, 2016, 2019)
—NL Hank Aaron Award winner (2016)
—Golden Spikes Award (2013)
—Most home runs ever by a Cub through his first 5 seasons
Yet he is still so hard on himself that former Cubs manager Joe Maddon took to sending emails to Bryant last year to remind him how good he is.
Bryant admitted even last season — his 5th in the big leagues — he was still learning how to stop being so critical of himself on the baseball diamond.
Well, now he might have found the secret.
In the first iteration of spring training in Arizona, Bryant said having a baby has changed his perspective in a lot of ways. Kyler Lee Bryant was born in mid-April, about a month into the MLB shutdown, and in the early going, the Cubs star feels different mentally even playing baseball amid a pandemic.
“It is yet to be seen — we’re doing competitive at-bats against our team,” Bryant. “But when you get into real games with guys trying to get you out, I don’t know how I’ll think. I mean, I think it’s just ingrained into me to be a competitor and be pissed when I get out or when I struggle and stuff like that, but at the same time, I’m out here taking live BPs and at-bats against my teammates and I feel just super calm.
“I feel like it’s helped — I’m seeing the ball really good. My only worries is really what I have at home and it’s kind of liberating in a sense when it comes to this game. I enjoy that feeling.”
Since he made his debut in 2015, Bryant has racked up more total WAR (27.8) than any other player in the National League by FanGraphs’ metric. Christian Yelich (27.7 WAR) is next closest, with Nolan Arenado (26.9 WAR) third on the list.
In the American League, only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts have racked up a more impressive WAR total.
That includes the last two seasons where Bryant has been hampered by injury. He missed 60 games in 2018 with a shoulder injury and saw a dip in power when he was on the field (13 homers). In 2019, he was impacted by knee inflammation for most of the second half yet still finished with 108 runs scored, 31 homers and a .903 OPS in 147 games.
Now David Ross has Bryant penciled into the leadoff spot in the Cubs order, asking the 28-year-old with a career .385 on-base percentage to be a tone-setter for the lineup and collect the most at-bats on the team. It’s a role Bryant has embraced since spring training and it’s a good strategy for the Cubs to get their top hitters to the plate right out of the chute in a shortened season where every game takes on added importance.
Ross said he hasn’t seen a change in Bryant’s work ethic since he first saw the young slugger arrive on the scene in 2015. And while the Cubs manager can’t speak for Bryant, he conceded a new mindset comes with fatherhood.
“How that translates to the field, I would be speculating, but having children myself and where life and baseball fits in perspective is a real thing,” Ross said. “I would definitely say to some extent that’s changed perspective. Anybody who has kids understands the way that lights you up when you have children.
“To be able to go home to that, no matter how good or bad your day is, you get to go home to kids and hold them and love on them and put them to bed — that’s a cool thing as a dad and a mom. That’s a special part of life, I think.”