Mike Bryant’s baby boy hit a home run Thursday in Pittsburgh. Doubled, too. That’s a good day for any ballplayer, especially when his team wins. It’s a pretty good day for a ballplayer’s dad as well.
“They’re all good days,” Bryant said. “Kris is a great son.”
A few minutes after the final out of the Cubs’ 4-2 win against the Pirates, the elder Bryant, 62, was on the phone and downplaying the significance of his son’s strong performance at the plate. Even the most talked-about, speculated-about, Tweeted about, loved, doubted, cheered, criticized, walk-year third baseman is going to have good days and bad days, hot streaks and slumps. It’s nothing to get too high or low about.
“This is a contract year for Kris,” Bryant said. “It happens. I don’t sweat it.”
It sounded a bit like what the former NL Rookie of the Year, MVP and three-time All-Star said himself on the next-to-last day of the 2020 regular season: “I don’t give a [expletive]. How about that?”
But we know negative comments about Bryant the player — his production, his durability, his at-bats in the clutch, whatever — have bothered him before, because he has openly acknowledged as much.
And we can be pretty sure they’ve bothered his dad, too, because, well, have you ever been a parent? Or met one?
“Kris and I know he is blessed to be able to play this game with the best players on the planet,” Bryant said. “He and I will never take that for granted. I think the city of Chicago needs to know that, too.”
The Bryants have been a baseball team since the 29-year-old slugger took his first swings as a tiny, smiley tot. No one taught Kris half as much about hitting as his old man, an ex-minor leaguer in the Red Sox organization, and they’re still in this thing together as much as they ever were. For much of the past offseason — after Kris slashed just .206/.293/.351 over a dreadful 34 games in 2020 — they worked in Mike’s batting cage three or four times a week and on the field at the Class AAA ballpark in Las Vegas twice a week.
It was precious time for Mike, who didn’t get to see his son in the flesh while the Cubs were operating in their 2020 pandemic bubble.
“This COVID thing put a squash on that,” he said, “and it has been really painful. Last year was rough. It’s hard because I love to watch him play ball.”
It also was precious time spent with his first grandchild — Kris’ son, Kyler, who celebrated birthday No. 1 Wednesday.
“There’s nothing like it,” Mike said. “Kyler is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night.”
So: What’s it really like to watch your kid fight for his career and reputation in a contract year?
“I mean, sure, you have some anxiety as a dad and an ex-player,” he allowed.
At least a droplet of sweat, then. As much as he can, though, Mike encourages Kris to let any pressure exist “outside of his own bubble.” Because when the pressure gets in, it can infect things in a hurry. That never seemed to happen in Bryant’s early seasons with the Cubs.
“And what could be worse than having a billboard up before you’ve ever played a game?” Mike said. “Talk about laying all these expectations on him.”
Given the shifts in sentiment and tone toward Bryant, it’s almost funny to remember the giant Adidas billboard of him — “Worth the wait,” it read — that went up across the street from the Wrigley Field marquee after the Cubs sent him down to the minors despite his spectacular spring training in 2015. Bryant wasn’t even in the big leagues, but already he was being viewed as a can’t-miss superstar. His service-time clock hadn’t even started, yet already there were — hey, literally — signs of friction between him and the organization.
Bryant handled seemingly everything with a confident, good-natured ease in 2015, 2016, 2017. But 2018, 2019 and 2020 had their bumps. It all set up the current season as the defining one of Bryant’s career as speeds toward the intersection of potential free agency and his 30s.
“He just tries to get better and just learn,” Mike said. “He gives 100% all the time. He never slacks. I’m just hoping he stays healthy. He’s been snakebitten since May of ’18.
“But for me, really? All I want is to watch my son play baseball for as long as he can.”