Somebody asked Kris Bryant during a pregame Zoom session Monday about expressing himself more on the field.
You know, presumably because he’s the guy who was quoted over the winter saying “at times” he didn’t feel the same joy on the field as he used to. The guy who didn’t like the way the quote took off to become an offseason narrative amid trade rumors and criticism.
Naturally, that’s where Bryant’s mind went right away, especially when he spied on the Zoom call the reporter from a worldwide outlet that Bryant had singled out at the time.
“Yeah, [worldwide guy], I guess I don’t enjoy baseball,” said Bryant, who couldn’t hold the straight face long enough for anyone to believe he was serious.
“No,” he said, laughing. Just kidding.
He’s actually having fun this season — certainly a lot more than last year, when he spent most of the pandemic-shortened season on the injured list or playing hurt. Maybe more than he has in years.
He showed it as much as he ever has on the field when he hit a tying grand slam in Monday’s third inning against tough Atlanta starter Charlie Morton during an 8-7 loss, responding as he rounded the bases to teammates celebrating on the dugout rail.
“It’s nice to watch him show a little bit of emotion for sure,” manager David Ross said.
Obviously, it’s a lot easier to enjoy the moments when so many of them have included homers (six), doubles (seven), RBIs (16) and enough other hits and walks to add up to a .993 OPS.
But Bryant’s easier laugh and lighter load these days is no accident, nor simply a result of a good individual start.
If anything, it’s a bittersweet byproduct of the reality he and what’s left of the 2016 championship core face this year — with the Bryzzo pair of Bryant and Rizzo, along with shortstop Javy Báez, all facing the looming specter of free agency after extension efforts in recent years and months fell short.
“We don’t talk about it much,” Bryant said. “But it’s in the back of your head.”
Maybe one or two — or all three — eventually sign extensions. Maybe one or two — or all three — are gone at the trade deadline if this is still no better than a .500-ish team by the middle of June.
None of them have to be asked about it by media — as they have since February — to look at each other and sense the end of an era.
“I’ve been playing baseball with Anthony Rizzo for — this is my seventh year now. And it’s like, yeah, it could be our last year together,” Bryant said. “But why would I want to just sit here and feel that pressure or sulk. I would rather really enjoy that and enjoy these memories.”
Enjoy them while they last.
That’s what Bryant says they’ve decided among themselves to do this season.
“It’s not necessarily that we talk about it all the time,” Bryant said, “but it’s like, ‘Let’s maybe have a little more fun than we have [had] before and joke around some more, joke about these stresses that we have each and every day.
“We have each other to lean on, and it might be the last time we get to use each other for resources like that.”
That’s the way it’s been since Bryant broke into the majors just long enough into the 2015 season to manipulate his service time and assure this 2021 season of club control, about eight months after Báez debuted. Rizzo was a 2014 All-Star by then.
Six consecutive winning seasons later — including five that finished in the postseason — it’s the last chance for a fall dance together with this group. A group with the kind of names — Jon Lester, Báez, Jake Arrieta and, of course, Bryzzo — certain to go down in franchise history with the likes of Three-Finger Brown, Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg and Tinker to Evers to Chance.
During a quiet conversation in spring training Bryant considered how he might be remembered in Chicago and talked about the core:
“It might sound a little cocky, but I think we’re legends in Chicago,” he said. “Because regardless of what we’ve done before or after, we won the most iconic championship in the history of sports.
“Me personally, I had my best year ever that year, so pretty legendary stuff right there.”
Best year so far at least. It’s still a few days until May, but Bryant looks a lot like that MVP version of himself so far — minus the 154-strikeout pace. He already has career highs for home runs and RBIs in April.
Being as healthy as he’s been since sometime in 2019 helps, he said. So does having a 1-year-old to keep up with at home after games, he said.
“But I think it’s just more of a peace of mind for me, knowing that — who knows — this might be a lot of our last years here,” he said. “I think we’ve done all that we can to show that each of us wants to play here. But none of that [extensions] has happened.
“So it’s just like, ‘Let’s go out there and have fun and enjoy this and really soak it all in.’ “
And enjoy whatever is left of this era for this Cubs core, while it lasts.