September 27, 2022

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'I'm a Rockie': Bryant pushes past old memories

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DENVER — Kris Bryant is not a Cub anymore. But if you were in the Rockies’ clubhouse prior to their 5-2 loss to Chicago in Thursday night’s series opener at Coors Field, it sure seemed like he was.

With a huge scrum of media, mostly from Chicago, surrounding his locker, Bryant amiably answered questions about facing his former team, one with whom he will forever be linked for his 2016 National League MVP season and his key role on the first Cubs World Series championship team in more than a century that fall.

But while he understood why he was being asked about his Chicago years, as well as a current Cubs roster of which he knows almost no one beyond manager David Ross, inside, Bryant was a little annoyed. After all, he already made his emotional return to Wrigley Field as a visitor last season, as a member of the Giants following his Trade Deadline move in July.

“I mean, I enjoyed my time in Chicago,” Bryant said. “But I don’t know if it warrants a press conference every time I play them.”

Bryant is one of two people alive who can say they made the final play of a World Series won by the Cubs. It was a moment that will live not only in Cubs lore, but in the annals of baseball history. 

But that was then. Bryant is a Rockie now, and he has his sights set on doing things for his new franchise that very few outsiders can see coming to pass after all that’s happened over the past few years in Denver. The departures of Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, along with three consecutive losing seasons after the Rockies reached the postseason in both 2017 and ’18, have drastically changed the landscape.

“There’s pressure with every team, it’s just a different type of pressure,” Bryant said. “Like with the Cubs [when I came up in 2015] not having won a World Series in over a century. And here, obviously some things have happened in the past and we’re playing in a tough division.”

Bryant and the 2016 Cubs were a great story. But it’s different with Bryant and the ’22 Rockies. That Cubs team was built from the bottom up over years of drafting and developing talent that made Chicago’s farm system among the best in the game as Bryant came through it. The club then added veteran stars, particularly in the starting rotation, to complete the package that earned it a long coveted championship.

The Rockies have a farm system ranked toward the bottom of baseball, per MLB Pipeline, along with a Major League roster that is projected to win somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 games. The 2015 Cubs won 97 games and reached the postseason.

That doesn’t deter Bryant, who says the journey toward his goal of “rewriting history” here has already begun.

“You saw what happened in the opening series, taking the series from the Dodgers,” Bryant said. “We hadn’t done that in a long time. Just doing stuff like that, trying to flip the script and get to the other end of the spectrum earlier — stuff like that can really make you believe.

“Because there’s such a stigma around here — like, you can win at home because it’s such a great place to hit, but on the road, it’s a completely different story because your numbers are different.”

As they say, it’s early. But the Rockies, despite their loss to the Cubs on Thursday, are 4-2 overall, and that includes a 2-0 record on the road thanks in large part to stellar bullpen performances so far. And Bryant doesn’t yet know what it’s like to have a hitless game in a Rockies uniform, adding two more singles Thursday to up his early-season average to .360 (9-for-25) during a six-game hitting streak.

Will it all pan out the way Bryant hopes? It’s certainly not Chicago in 2015. 

“I’m a Rockie. I’m in a different position in my life and in my career,” Bryant added. “The Cubs are just another team now. I wore that uniform for a really long time, played really hard for that team, did great things there. Now I’m here, and I’m going to do the same thing here, and hopefully write another story.”

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