Cubs: Home Run Derby an 'emotional roller coaster' for Bryant family


Cubs: Home Run Derby an 'emotional roller coaster' for Bryant family

CINCINNATI — Kris Bryant wasn't the only one who had a dream come true by participating in the Home Run Derby on Monday night.

Mike Bryant — Kris' dad — had been waiting for this moment for 35 years.

Kris enlisted Mike as his personal pitcher during his first Home Run Derby appearance, the first time Mike got to enjoy the life of a big-leaguer. It was just the latest step in a whirlwind year for the Bryant family. 

From Kris' big-league debut April 17 at Wrigley Field to his first All-Star selection to Monday's Home Run Derby, it's almost too much for Mike to handle.

The elder Bryant had to hold back tears in the locker room after the Derby, some two hours after he threw his last pitch to his son.

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"Right now, I feel so mentally drained," Mike said. "It was incredible. ... It's a roller coaster of emotions. He's on a roller coaster of emotions and he's handling it. I'm at home, watching every pitch. You know, this is the big leagues now."

Kris was knocked out in the first round of the Home Run Derby, hitting nine homers to Albert Pujols' 10. 

But for Kris, he didn't mind the result.

"I didn't care if I won or lost or how many homers I hit," Kris said. "It was more of the experience and enjoying [it with my dad]. ... It was great. I wouldn't trade that for anything. Just getting to experience that with him.

"I know he had a great time, too. Just to see my dad out there having a blast put a smile on my face.

"He's a big part of my success and a big part of who I am. Having him out there was icing on the cake, really."

Mike admitted he had some trouble calming down the nerves while pitching, struggling to find a way to slow his heart rate down and breathe. Kris, on the other hand, "doesn't get nervous," his dad says.

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"That's bucket list stuff right there," Mike said. "We talked about this when he signed, like, 'Kris, I know it's a little premature, but if you ever make the big leagues and you become an All-Star and you get invited to the Home Run Derby, I want to pitch to you.'

"He said, 'Of course, Dad. You've been throwing to me all my life.' I did OK out there and he did the best he could with the way I was pitching him. It was OK, but there's better BP pitchers than me."

Before he started throwing to Kris, Mike went behind the mound and drew initials in the grass of an old college baseball teammate who passed away recently (just a week after seeing Kris play in New York). 

"I was taken in that moment, looking up at all 50,000 eyes thinking, 'Man, so this is what it's like to stand out there on the field and watch that many people watch you perform,'" Mike said.

Mike was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the ninth round of the 1980 MLB Draft and spent two years playing in A-ball before being released.

As a guy who doesn't want to leave the field — "I can't think of a place I'd rather be than be at the ballpark for eight hours" — Mike never got to realize his dream of playing in the big leagues.

Now, he can live through Kris' experiences.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Kris Bryant jersey here]

"I like to say when he made it, I made it," Mike said. "Now I'm going through everything that he's going through and that I didn't get to experience as a minor-leaguer and I never got there.

"So I'm going through it with him and I'm too old for this. This roller coaster, I can't handle it. Kris handles it. He's right there, he stays right in the middle. 

"I've been blessed and lucky to have a kid like that and coach him like that."

Mike said the reward is even greater now that Kris is fulfilling his dreams of playing in the majors.

"You know what, I wish that for every parent, to be able to say that," Mike said. "It is better. The disappointment that I went through when I got cut and I was sent home, I didn't want him to have to go through that.

"So it is better. A whole lot better."

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.