KODAK, TN – Kris Bryant was back in action Monday night at Smokies Stadium, home of the Tennessee Smokies. The Cubs Double-A affiliate took on the Montgomery Biscuits and took care of business, winning 6-2.
Bryant had plenty to do with that.
The all-world third baseman went 2-for-4 with three RBI. He reached on an error in his first at bat and came around to score the game’s first run and blasted a home run in his final at bat that brought the 7,613-person crowd donned in blue No. 17 jerseys to its feet (the largest of the year to no surprise).
It shouldn’t be shocking. Bryant’s storied rise had a Player of the Year campaign last time he was in Kodak (or Sevierville depending who you ask), Tennessee. That was 2014, fresh off his 2013 Golden Spikes Award-winning season with San Diego. He only spent half the season with the Smokies in 2014, slashing .355/.458/.702 with 22 home runs and an absurd 1.160 OPS (it lowered to 1.098 after his second half in the Pacific Coast League of Triple-A). Pretty ho-hum numbers, huh?
A memorable battle with the service clock, a Rookie of the Year campaign followed by an MVP season and reversing a 108-year-old curse all fills out Bryant’s resume. Quite the career, just four years in.
But for the next couple of days, he’s back in Tennessee, a minor leaguer once again. He’ll be rehabbing his shoulder, which he said, “feels good, body feels good.” It was the first time in his career he ever dealt with a prolonged layoff, and the two weeks left him hurting to get back on the diamond. Bryant caught up with the press in a dugout exclusive prior to his return.
On the two-week layoff:
“Very hungry, especially watching the team have so much success. I’m kind of sitting on the bench useless. But sometimes it’s good to kind of get away from it, be a fan. I think I used my time wisely.”
On being back in Tennessee and Double-A:
“Definitely [good to be back]. I try to keep things in perspective. It’s nice to have a new perspective and see guys really working hard and taking it really seriously. It really makes you appreciate everything you have, I have, at the big-league level.”
On whether or not he planned on reliving that 2014 power-happy experience back here:
“Definitely. This is a fun park to hit in. I love this place. Home runs are home runs, though. I don’t care where they are.”
(Author’s note: I retweeted this to correct his line to 2-for-4. Said author has fat finger and Twitter still doesn’t have an edit button.)
On being the big leaguer that minor leaguers look up to:
“When I was here, Jake Arrieta was here for four or five starts. It was fun to have him around. It was cool to see guys that have been there and done that. I know a lot of these [current Smokies], in spring training we all kind of hung out. I don’t want to be treated any differently. If I can help them out in anyway, pointers or anything, that’s what I enjoy.”
On winning a World Series with the guys he climbed the ladder with:
“It was that much better. Winning the World Series with guys like Albert (Almora, Jr.). He was the first guy that I met and one of my closest friendships in the organization. You know being in the [Arizona] Fall League and winning the World Series with guys like Javy [Javier Baez] and Jorge Soler, guys I played with [in Tennessee], it brought it full circle. When we were playing here we knew we were good talent and that we were going to help the team. It was pretty cool to see that come to fruition.”
On that big final out of the World Series:
“I’ve seen it so many times. I think that you kind of dream about that but looking back it was stressful. I hope they hit it somewhere else next time we’re in the World Series.”
On how different a player he is now than in 2014:
“It’s a lot different. The whole approach is completely different. Obviously in the minor leagues, pitchers are trying to figure out their command. They pitched me a lot outside, so I hit a lot of home runs out to right, right center, especially here. But in the big leagues the really know how to pitch and throw to you inside, so that was something I had to change. So, something I do really well now is pull the ball and something that I don’t do well is hot the ball to right field. It’s crazy how things work out. I’m always continuing to learn.”