The cliché had been that anyone on the Cubs team that finally won the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908 would never have to pay for another meal or drink in Chicago again…as if players weren’t already taken care of in this city and inundated with so much free stuff in The Show.
But how about Cubs fans finding Kris Bryant’s wedding registries and buying him home furnishings? That’s how surreal this year has been for the National League MVP, who already got a Cubs wedding tuxedo on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and appeared on the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” set with a goat wearing a W flag.
“One thing that sticks out is the parade in Chicago,” Bryant said after winning his latest award from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “You really got a chance to see just how huge this win was for the city and the fans and the people who have been waiting so long for it.”
Cubs fans clearly have a lot to be thankful for this year. Leading up to last week’s MVP announcement, Bryant’s father, Mike, explained on WMVP-AM 1000 how all these boxes from Crate & Barrel and Bed Bath & Beyond have piled up at the family’s Las Vegas home, where he runs hitting lessons for kids dreaming about being the next “KB.”
“I can’t even begin to describe how many trips I’ve had to make back and forth, and how many boxes I’ve had to open,” said Bryant, who’s preparing to marry his fiancée, Jessica, in January. “For fans to care about me in that way and send me something, I don’t know. I don’t know if I could ever repay that.
“But we have a lot of stuff, and we’re very thankful for it. Certainly, we’re not asking for it, by any means. We’re kind of just really seeing how awesome our fans are, that they take the time out of their day to find something special to send me.”
• However long the collective bargaining ultimately takes – and whatever final shape the new agreement takes – the next labor deal is expected to tweak the mechanisms that incentivized tanking. It’s not just the Cubs losing 101 games in 2012 and winning the chance to draft Bryant with the No. 2 overall pick the following year. It’s the Cubs getting more than $10.5 million to move around within their 2013 draft class, the wide disparities in bonus-pool money and the spending restrictions on international prospects.
This could be dredging up an old negotiating ploy after more than two decades of labor peace, but with the owners now reportedly considering a lockout if the players’ union doesn’t agree to a new deal by the time the current one expires on Dec. 1, it’s worth pointing out how this industry can soar to $10 billion and beyond.
It’s the Cubs becoming a super-team, iconic big-market franchises like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers reloading without tanking, growing the game at the grassroots level, expanding across the globe and the next wave of talent overtaking Major League Baseball.
[SHOP: Buy a Kris Bryant jersey]
Both Bryant and Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout just won MVP awards during their age-24 seasons. Bryant grew up in Las Vegas playing with and against Bryce Harper, a lightning-rod talent with crossover appeal who became the NL MVP with the Washington Nationals last year and actually turned 24 in October.
“With some older guys going out like David Ortiz, it’s up to us young guys to kind of fill their shoes,” Bryant said. “Just looking at our team, everywhere you look, there’s a young guy that’s under 25. That’s huge for the game. So hopefully we get more of those young stars in Mookie Betts and obviously Mike Trout and Harper and the list goes on and on. It’s great for the sport.”
• Bryant understands all those responsibilities as a face of the franchise, a corporate pitchman and a poster boy for the union after the Cubs manipulated his service time to delay his free agency until after the 2021 season.
Forget judging Bryant by superstar standards – he would be considered extremely accessible to the media if he had been the first guy out of the bullpen or the last guy off the bench. Win or lose, he stood at his locker throughout the playoffs, answering questions from any reporter and every direction.
Bryant admired the way Derek Jeter played 20 seasons in New York, won five World Series rings with the Yankees and somehow kept his reputation intact, carefully avoiding controversy or the whiff of scandal.
While other players keep walking toward the clubhouse during spring training, Bryant frequently stops to sign autographs outside Sloan Park in Arizona, viewing it as part of his job to make those connections with the fans.
“I feel like good guys finish first,” Bryant said. “Being humble and just being a good role model for kids out there – that’s something I strive for more than putting up good numbers on the field or any of my individual goals.
“I don’t want to be that person where people look at him and they say he’s too cocky or any of that. I just want to go out there and do my job, put smiles on people’s faces and win a lot of games along the way. This year was the perfect way to kind of illustrate that.”