Hot off the Presses: The May issue offers an inside look at the real Kris Bryant
I had one guiding concept in mind when I set out to report the cover feature on Cubs star Kris Bryant for this month: Do not write a hagiography. There are plenty of St. Kristopher stories out there. I figured the world didn’t need another one.
I’d certainly talked to Bryant before—several times, in fact, from his initial signing through the final days of last season. And, cards on the table, I like the guy. But I’d never done anything in-depth with him. My goal as a writer was to stay impartial, impassive and honest. Yes, I work for the Cubs, but I still wanted to let the story tell itself without bias.
Soooo … that was my goal.
But here’s the rub: Kris Bryant is an excellent baseball player. Sure there are a few knocks on his game. He struck out a lot last season and likely will always pile up the K’s. His defense is still evolving, although he finished strong last season. And I suppose he got stuck on 99 RBI for a while. Anything else is nitpicking.
But the reason it’s so difficult to avoid writing a puff piece about him is that he’s also a genuinely nice fellow. I had only a short window to interview him at Spring Training in March, so I checked in with him on my first full day there—a Monday. He was literally dressed and walking out of the clubhouse, but he politely said he couldn’t do anything substantive until that Friday because he was booked solid with photo shoots, commercial shoots, interviews and, well, baseball.
For many players, “Try me tomorrow” is the sporting equivalent of saying, “It was fun; I’ll give you a call sometime,” after a bad date. Still, we checked in with each other throughout the week, and he held firm on Friday. I told him that was fine with me, but in reality I was nearly panicked because Friday was my second-to-last day there. No Bryant, no story.
But once that day arrived, I didn’t have to track him down (or beg, which I was prepared to do). He walked straight over to me, shook my hand, apologized for making me wait and then asked if I wanted to get out of the clubhouse so we could avoid the inevitable media scrum that surrounds him. That kind of behavior is not unheard of, but it definitely stands out enough that you notice. After a very respectful and engaging 20 minutes, I had what I needed and made my peace with what kind of story this was going to be.
What I really wanted to uncover was how Bryant handled the titanic expectations that were heaped upon him last year and what kind of an impact that would have on his sophomore campaign.
One of the first people I talked to for some insight was Cubs assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske, a two-time World Series champion with his own Rookie of the Year trophy, from 2002. I figured if anyone can relate to what Bryant will be going through this season, it’s him. When asked what the 24-year-old is like as a student, Hinske, who pretty much saw it all over his 12-year major-league career, seemed a bit flustered.
“Honestly, he’s far along in the process,” Hinske said. “He really doesn’t have to be a pupil that much. It’s more of just maintaining his swing. He’s so mechanically right. He’s a bright kid, a good character guy. He takes instruction well if he needs it, and he’s just a pleasure to work with every day.”
Our feature paints a picture of a very talented, grounded and decent human being—one who is likely to terrorize opposing pitchers for the next decade-plus. In the May issue, we also talk to hitting coach John Mallee about his expectations for the season and the work he’s doing with an incredibly potent offensive group. Finally, we look back at one of the most memorable games ever pitched at the Friendly Confines, even if there might not be a person alive who actually remembers seeing it—the remarkable dual no-hitter spun by Hippo Vaughn and Fred Toney in 1917.
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