MILWAUKEE — When Kris Bryant got to the visitors clubhouse in Milwaukee his Cubs past immediately hit him in the face.
Not because the Giants were playing so close to Chicago or even that two familiar media faces were there to rehash his departure, exactly one week earlier when a rare Cubs championship era was snuffed out in a 24-hour flurry of trades.
“It’s weird sitting here on a Friday and watching the Cubs play at 1:20,” Bryant said of the Cubs-Sox game playing on the clubhouse TV. “Looking at the lineup and trying to figure out who’s who and stuff like that. Seeing them on TV is kind of surreal.”
The last time Bryant was in Milwaukee, Cubs were blowing a seven-run lead on the way to getting swept during an 11-game losing streak, and he was on the team hitting bottom.
“Things just kind of unraveled quickly. The perfect storm of everything,” he said, “and then everybody’s gone.”
Friday he wore a black Giants undershirt and gray baseball pants as he sat in the dugout — a look that was all wrong, even against the smile that said all was right with him after he and his family had settled into their new baseball life.
“I’m just glad that it’s over and done with,” Bryant said of the weight of months — even years — of trade rumors, speculation and questions finally being lifted from his shoulders with the deal just before the trade deadline last week that sent the Cubs two prospects in return for the franchise’s best homegrown player since Greg Maddux.
“That day was circled on my calendar,” he said. “Just leading up to it, it wasn’t as hard as it was in the past. … It was kind of nice just to not have to think about that anymore. I am here for the rest of the year, and I can focus on that now.”
Bryant, who becomes a free agent after this seventh career season the Cubs manipulated his service time to secure control of, certainly wasn’t shocked by the trade — if anything, he wondered for a minute if he might be the only one standing after Anthony Rizzo, Craig Kimbrel and Javy Báez were traded before him.
“After three years of answering all the questions of being traded and stuff, and I’m like, ‘I’m going to be the one that’s not traded?’ How did that work out?” said Bryant, who actually got the news of the trade last Friday from his wife (by way of Twitter) and his agent.
Then came the call from Jed Hoyer while Bryant was in the dugout in Washington with hitting coach Anthony Iapoce in the caught-on-camera emotional moment that went viral.
“I walked up to ‘Poce and he said I can’t take this anymore. He’s crying. Everybody’s going away.
“That got to me.”
Bryant said he actually found out before manager David Ross and was the one to tell him.
He never wanted to leave, he said, but knew by the time the Cubs got swept in Milwaukee that the day was coming soon.
“I’m happy it was the Giants. It’s a great spot,” said the Las Vegas native.
The suddenness of almost everybody from the core getting traded at once might have been jarring, but “I didn’t feel it was as sudden for myself,” he said.
“It doesn’t take away any of the feelings. It was definitely sad, definitely sad leaving some people that have been around my whole pro career. But I was happy it was this team and coming to a first-place team. Overall, I think it worked out.”
Rizzo (Yankees), Báez (Mets) and Bryant each hit home runs in their debuts for their new teams.
“Really cool to see that,” Bryant said, even if it was “pouring salt in the wound kind of.”
Bryant, who returns to Wrigley Field next month with the Giants, said he’ll wait until the heat of a playoff season is off before soaking in the six-plus year run he had with the Cubs that included the 2016 MVP, four All-Star appearances and the most celebrated championship in American team sports history.
Could the core have won more championships during that run of six consecutive winning seasons, been to more than one World Series?
“It’s hard because I know that that has been a big story,” he said of how all the easy talk of dynasties after 2016 devolved into narratives fueled by the front office of falling short of expectations.
“But it really shouldn’t be the story,” he added. “The story should be of what we accomplished there. Just the good things that we’ve done there and the good people that we signed and that they [still] have there and the good players that have grown and grown into winners. And now they can look back and see me here and Javy and Craig and Rizz and be proud of the player that we are because [the Cubs] have had a big impact in making us who we are."
Maybe it was just time to move on, for Bryant at least?
“I’m never going to look at it like that,” he said, “because I just have too many great memories there to say I want to leave or don’t want to be here anymore. You can kind of suck it up through some of the tougher days. But at the same time, the decision was made for us to move on and we did. And we’re all in great spots, and I’m very appreciative of the fact that I am here and I’m playing for a winner.”
He said it’s “fair” to ask if the jettisoned core should have done more. But he also knows how tough winning repeated championships is for any baseball team — with seven different teams having won the last seven World Series.
“No excuses,” he said. “We had great players. We got it done once. And we’re thankful for that. And if we didn’t, there’d be a lot more years [added] to the [108-year drought].
“You can always look back and ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’ and wish we won more World Series and this and that,” he said. “But when you look at that era, that’s one of the more dominant eras of Cubs baseball, and that’s something you really feel proud of.”