There were tears in the visitors’ dugout at Nationals Park in late July when he learned he’d been traded at the deadline.
There were tears outside the visitors’ dugout at Wrigley Field on Friday as the Cubs welcomed him home, if only for the weekend.
Kris Bryant’s tears. Ever the sentimental superstar, this guy.
“This place is home,” he said before the start of a three-game series between the 90-win Giants — owners of the best record in baseball — and the 65-win Cubs. “It always will be.”
Bryant was batting in the No. 5 hole and playing left field for his 32nd game with the Giants. He wears No. 23 across his back these days.
No. 23 in your scorebook, still No. 17 in Cubs fans’ hearts.
“There’s no disappointment, no,” he said. “I feel like I’ve made the choice to look back on my time here and just smile at it, because it was nothing but smiles. There were definitely some harder times, but if you were to tell me when I got drafted I would spend 6 1/2 years here and win a World Series and an MVP and a Rookie of the Year, 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.”
A video tribute displayed on the big board in left after the national anthem visibly moved Bryant as he watched from near the on-deck circle. Whether or not the ensuing hug he got from Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made him feel anything, we’re left to wonder. Bryant smiled alongside Ricketts and executives Jason McLeod and Crane Kenny for a home-plate photo op and was presented with a 2016 World Series banner and a No. 17 scoreboard panel.
“I don’t feel ill will toward anybody,” he said.
Bryant texted before the game with Cubs manager David Ross, whose absence stood out as both Ross and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer were quarantined after positive COVID-19 tests.
“I guess it’s kind of the theme of the weekend,” Bryant said. “There’s a lot of new [Cubs players]. Rossy not being there kind of fits the weekend.”
After arriving on the Giants’ bus and walking into Wrigley through an unfamiliar entrance behind right field, Bryant was “lost.”
“I’ve never even set foot on that side of the concourse,” he said. “I had no clue where I was going. [With] all these cameras in my face, I tried to play it off like I knew what I was doing.”
But Wrigley will always be — on some level — home. Even if it’s a home away from home. For now, Bryant is stuck with the Giants, who happen to be the best surprise in baseball as they continue to hold a lead over the mighty Dodgers in the dynamite National League West.
It could be a heck of a lot worse. (See: the Cubs.)
But would Bryant, a free agent as season’s end, be open to returning for real?
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a possibility. It always is. I’m never closing the book on this place ever.”
The book is probably nailed shut, truth be told. Maybe it’s just as well.
“[The end] finally happened, and now I can move on,” he said. “Ultimately, I think it just really helped me grow as a player and a person in how to deal with certain things. It just made me better.”
But being in a different team’s uniform now? Wearing different colors and a different number for different fans in a different part of the country. It’s got to be kind of weird. Not to mention different.
“It really isn’t,” he said. “The first couple days, I was getting used to everything. But now it’s just playing baseball. It’s a lot of the same stuff I’ve been through [with the Cubs]. We’re chasing a division; I’ve been [here] doing that before. A lot of the emotions and feelings are the exact same.”
An hour or so later, the tears in his eyes said otherwise.