MESA, Ariz. (AP) Jason Heyward is amazed at how Kris Bryant handles the attention that comes with being the NL Rookie of the Year two years ago and the commanding MVP choice and World Series champion just a year later.
The swarms of adoring Cubs fans. Constant autograph signing. Selfies galore with the North Side die-hards.
”Everybody wants his autograph, everybody wants a picture, and those are good things, but it’s a lot to take on,” Heyward said.
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Yet Bryant appears so at ease with the fanfare, seemingly able to block it all out the moment he steps on the diamond to begin his workday.
Heyward himself experienced the hype of being in a Rookie of the Year race while playing for Atlanta seven years ago, when he finished runner-up to San Francisco catcher Buster Posey. Sometimes, Heyward reminds Bryant that he doesn’t have to oblige every autograph seeker or pose for every photo ”because he does so much for a lot of people on and off the field.”
”As far as the way he goes about his business, the baseball part, it’s fun to watch and you appreciate it,” Heyward said Saturday, when the Cubs’ first full-squad workout was canceled because of rare heavy rain in the desert. ”You see certain players, certain people get a certain kind of attention in life, in sports, entertainment, baseball, whatever. He, being on the Chicago Cubs, coming up the first spring training he had big league camp wise, then coming back and having another big spring, obviously going on to win the MVP, that’s a lot of attention. And he won Rookie of the Year. I understand what it’s like to go through one of those years where people are talking about you as a rookie.”
Bryant tired after a short offseason? Yeah, right.
”I guess I’m the wrong guy to ask, I’m still pretty young. I’m just going to run with that. I have youth on my side,” the 25-year-old third baseman said with a grin. ”We did have a short offseason, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Bryant played almost everywhere on the field last season as the Cubs captured their first World Series title since 1908, and he loved it.
Sure, he might play third base more regularly this year and that’s fine with him, but he also wouldn’t mind bouncing around again if that is best for the Cubs and helps them build off what they accomplished in 2016 to end the franchise’s drought at long last.
”I like moving around. It’s fun for me, it keeps it fresh. I’m ready for it. I’ve got all my gloves here,” said Bryant, who played 107 games at third, 69 in the outfield, nine at first base, one at shortstop and one as designated hitter during interleague.
He hit .292 with 39 home runs and 102 RBIs, 35 doubles and an NL-leading 121 hits last season, earning 29 of a possible 30 first-place votes in the MVP race a year after sweeping as Rookie of the Year.
Now, Bryant is eager to get started as the defending champs try to make another special run and keep flying that W.
”It’s going to be tough to do but we still have the majority of our guys here,” Bryant said. ”We’re extremely confident heading into it. I guess some of the pressure’s off, 108 years is now behind us. But the goal from here on out is to win the World Series and if you don’t do that, I consider every season after that a failure if you don’t do that.”
Manager Joe Maddon just wants to make sure Bryant gets extra rest whenever he might need it – not often – or adjusts his workload when necessary to keep him in prime health for the long haul.
Other than those things, Maddon has few concerns about his All-Star slugger.
”God bless, he’s done pretty good in college, he’s done pretty good in the minor leagues, he’s done pretty good as a rookie, he’s been pretty good as a second-year guy,” Maddon said. ”He’s so grounded and that’s the only thing, see with him the method with which he thinks and the support staff that he has, I’m not concerned. My biggest concern is always health. A guy like him you want to keep him mentally and physically well and if you can do that, there’s no reason that he can’t continue to actually keep getting better. So I don’t worry about things like that.”
Bryant got recognized regularly when he was home in Las Vegas this winter and realized just how many Cubs fans there are everywhere.
”You can say he handles it better than I handled it when I did it, and I thought I did it pretty well,” Heyward said. ”… He does a good job of separating and just going to play his game, being a kid and loving baseball.”