MILWAUKEE — Exactly a week after the Cubs traded him to the Giants, former MVP Kris Bryant sat in a dugout 90 miles from Wrigley Field and considered the question of what he expects as a reception when he returns to Wrigley for the first time.
“I hope they have like a Game of Thrones chair at home plate,” he deadpanned, “and like a red carpet. And they carry me and then I can just wave to the fans.”
He couldn’t get through the description without breaking into a big smile.
Maybe they could retire his number while they’re at it, he was asked.
“Yeah, maybe put a flag up there, the whole works,” he laughed. “I expect it all. I’ll be all over Vijay and big Jim.”
The ease with which he dropped the names of traveling secretary Vijay Tekchandani and clubhouse relations director Jim Oboikowitch, two longtime behind-the-scenes All-Stars for the organization, speaks to the relationships Bryant developed in more than eight years since being drafted second overall by the Cubs in 2013.
Which makes Friday’s homecoming for the start of this weekend’s Cubs-Giants series at least as sweet an event for Bryant as it was for former teammate Kyle Schwarber when Schwarber returned to Wrigley with the Nationals in May.
Bryant, the Cubs’ left fielder for that series opener, left a pile of candy on the grass for Schwarber, the Nationals’ left fielder that day, in the first inning.
“Pretty funny gesture,” said Schwarber, who munched on a Twix bar from the pile while manning his position. “We formed bonds for what we did, and just being able to play with each other for so long.”
Bryant’s return Friday, of course, will be a too-soon reminder for many of how the trade deadline became the franchise’s version of the Game of Thrones Red Wedding, no matter what version of Bryant’s “Game of Thrones chair” might be in store for his first game back since the final, long-celebrated pieces of the 2016 championship core we traded out of town.
As he returns with the winningest team in the majors this year, Bryant might also offer a reminder of the fact he has never finished a season in his career with a losing record, that he’s about to reach the postseason for the sixth time in that seven-year career — and, depending on how he performs, maybe even the fact that he became the Cubs’ best homegrown player since Greg Maddux.
Bryant ranks sixth in career OPS (.886) and slugging (.508) in Cubs history. Seventh, eighth and ninth in Cubs slugging: Andre Dawson, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks.
“From a fan perspective, it’s more weird for them, all this stuff,” Cubs veteran outfielder Jason Heyward said. “They’re outside looking in on a lot of it.
“I feel like it’s a privilege and an honor for a fan base to have players to miss,” he added. “Regardless of how they leave, time is going to always win. And this [was] a group that did a lot of special things here. So I think if anything it’s a treat for them to be able to root for the players to come back through here so soon.”
Regardless, Bryant is assured of a tribute from the Cubs and a warm welcome from fans who were denied the chance to see him play his last game at Wrigley Field, when he and Anthony Rizzo were held out of the final home game before the trade deadline, July 29, supposedly for nothing related to imminent deals the club actually tried to claim.
Rizzo was traded a few hours later, before the Cubs’ bus left the park that day for the next road trip.
“It’s very fresh, so it’ll be very cool to at least have one guy go back and play there [before the end of the season] and hopefully get a nice response, because what the fans have meant — obviously, they make this thing go,” Bryant said. “They made us what we were. We were feeding off their energy from 2015 and changing the lovable-loser narrative into an organization that expects to win. And they were with us the whole way, and I appreciate that. I always do.”
Bryant may not have gotten the chance that day in July to have his final embrace with fans, but he said the fact he played a lot of outfield in those final weeks as a Cub gave him a lot more chance to interact than if he had stayed at third base.
“It was really special just hearing all the good things they were saying to me,” he said. “And I gave it back a little bit, too. I’m not super playful out there in the outfield, but when they’re just all over me in the whole game telling me how much they love me, I’ve got to show some love back, because they’ve done some great things for me and my family.”
Bryant has played mostly third for the Giants since the trade, but has seen time in the outfield in three of his last four games, so he might get the up-close experience upon his return.
Even if it doesn’t come with the red carpet and chair at home plate.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be,” he said, “but I’m sure it’ll be special.”