Kris Bryant stepped off the Giants team bus outside Wrigley Field Friday morning, greeted by a crowd of Cubs fans so loud that reporters said they could hear them from the press box.
“I didn't picture that many people waiting out there,” Bryant said.
“It kind of reminded me of when we got home at 6 in the morning when we won the World Series and there were so many people waiting for us. I expected some people [Friday] but not that many.”
Bryant has entered Wrigley countless times, but this was different. Friday marked his first game back since the Cubs traded him to the Giants at the July 30 deadline.
Plus, he had never entered on the visitors side.
“I had never even stepped foot on that side of the concourse, so I was lost,” Bryant said. “I had no clue where I was going and had all these cameras in my face.
“I was trying to play it off like I knew what I was doing. It's still so new too, so it feels like I was just here.”
The last time he was at Wrigley, he and Anthony Rizzo were sitting on the bench — out of the starting lineup July 29 against the Reds. The Cubs said it was unrelated to the trade deadline.
They traded Rizzo to the Yankees that afternoon and Bryant to San Francisco 24 hours later.
Bryant said he tried his best to soak in the Wrigley Field atmosphere that day — at least as best he could with the deadline uncertainty.
“It kind of stinks that the last day there wasn't as enjoyable as you make it, but I kind of expected that too,” Bryant said. “The stresses of going through trades is not the greatest feeling.”
Bryant said he circled this weekend on his calendar in the aftermath of the trade. He gets another opportunity to soak in the atmosphere with the three-game series.
He started in left field Friday and was looking forward to being close to fans.
“I’m super pumped about that,” he said. “Before I got traded, it was really cool to hear them non-stop talking to me out there.”
Cubs fans welcomed him back with a warm reception, giving him a standing ovation following a video tribute before Friday’s game, as well as before his first at-bat.
An emotional Bryant wiped away tears during the tribute.
Bryant, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, president of business operations Crane Kenney and senior vice president of player personnel Jason McLeod posed for photos. The three gifted Bryant a ‘17’ panel from the center field scoreboard and a ‘2016’ rooftop flag.
David Ross and Jed Hoyer were unable to attend the ceremony as they continue to isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.
“I’m a little upset that [acting manager Andy Green] has to walk me down the red carpet,” Bryant joked, “but I hope [Ross] is feeling good, and Jed too."
As much as Friday offered Cubs fans a chance to show their appreciation to Bryant, it went both ways. His family gifted cookies with special notes to ushers and other gameday staff.
Even as he’s on the other side now, the North Side is still special to Bryant.
“This place is home to me,” Bryant said. “It always will be. I know my way around here. I go to my restaurants and sandwich shops.
“Anytime I’m here, I’ll always feel like it is home, even though I am at a hotel.”
He also holds no hard feelings over not getting to spend his entire career with the Cubs, instead preferring to look back on his Chicago tenure with smiles and all he and the club accomplished, he said.
The Cubs and Bryant made five postseason trips from 2015-20 — including three trips to the NLCS. They won the 2016 World Series. Bryant registered numerous personal accolades.
“If you told me when I got drafted,” Bryant said, “in six and a half years here, I’d win a World Series, an MVP, a Rookie of the Year, make four All-Star Games and tons of great memories, I’d tell you, ‘You're crazy. Is that really going to happen to me?’
“Now I'm sitting here today and that actually did happen to me, for an organization like the Chicago Cubs, playing at Wrigley Field every single day. That’s amazing.”
Just don't ask him to pick his favorite memory with the Cubs — not yet, at least.
"That’s so hard," he said. "Ask me that in 10 years when I have enough time to sit on the couch and make a list.
"Right now it's easy to kind of forget about certain things, but when it’s all said and done, it’s important to go back and realize how special it was here."