Cubs fans are going to have more opportunities than ever to snag free giveaways from the Bryzzo Souvenir Company, as the proprietors will be batting earlier and oftener this season. Manager David Ross announced Wednesday that he’d approached Kris Bryant about the idea of being the team’s everyday leadoff man, then added that he wanted Anthony Rizzo batting second. Rather than making novel attempts to spark slumping players, Ross just wants his best on-base-getters to have the most chances to get on base.
Early reaction has been split, with many fans echoing the criticism from luminaries like John Smoltz and Harold Reynolds. Others view it as the best option from among a series of imperfect choices forced upon Ross by the construction of his roster. Still more have lauded the move, especially Bryant at leadoff, as long overdue.
Each side will no doubt attempt to claim victory for its way of thinking after the first plate appearances of the Cactus League slate, but the real judgment can’t come until later. Ross is well aware that he’s going to have to stay the course and not panic at the first sign of trouble. Setting the top of the order now gives everyone plenty of time to adjust to the idea mentally.
“I like it because the later you wait for things like this, especially with this group where you don’t have a prototypical Dexter Fowler, it gives you time to either be pissed and get over being pissed or be excited and get used to it,” Rizzo said Thursday after asking rhetorically whether reporters had seen the back of Bryant’s baseball card.
“So it gives you that time to get used to it whatever way you wanna go. Here, it’s been exciting. I know Kris is excited about it.”
While Bryant is definitely on board with the idea, “excited” may not really the best word to describe it. A day after bogarting Tom Ricketts’ parking spot, the newly-minted leadoff man turned up the sarcasm to borderline snark level when talking to reporters in the locker room before the day’s workout.
“It’s just something else to talk about, right?” Bryant deadpanned. “On my part, I’m always going to do whatever is asked of me and never think twice about it. But it’s like, ‘All right, well, just another thing we can talk about with Kris.’”
We’re starting to see a whole new side of Bryant, who cut loose a “dangit” after he broke his bat on a Jon Lester fastball during his first live BP of the spring. Maybe it’s just that Masshole blood running through his Vegas veins making itself known. Nah, no way, this is just the same humble guy who wants to keep his head down and play baseball.
“Whatever Rossy asked me, I was always gonna do,” Bryant said about his acceptance of the new role. “I’ve always been that way. I thought we could’ve done it a couple times in the past too, but I hope to provide that stability up there and hopefully we can ride that the whole year.”
Hey, there’s that mention of being around all season again. Bryant expressed more certainty about his future after meeting with Theo Epstein prior to the first mandatory workouts at Sloan Park, and having him in the leadoff role is a pretty clear sign that the team doesn’t intend to move him. Ross and Epstein certainly spoke about all of this prior to making it public, making this lineup decision as clear a vote of confidence in Bryant as we’ve gotten so far.
“Yeah, I love that (idea of being here the whole year),” Bryant said. “I mean, I don’t know that it completely shuts it out because there’s always going to be talk and rumors. But I guess from Rossy’s perspective, he sees that I’m gonna be here and he’s making a commitment. I’m making a commitment and I’m ready to see this thing through.”
Though it never should have been in question, Bryant’s desire to remain in Chicago has become even more clear over the last few days. Were he truly upset about the way things had gone with his grievance hearing or constant trade rumors, that displeasure would have come through at some point. Instead, he’s embracing the opportunity to take on new roles in the service of the team he says he wants to remain with throughout his career.
“I can’t picture myself wearing anything but the pinstripes,” Bryant told ESPN’s Pedro Gomez on Wednesday. “This has been a dream come true. This is home to me.”
Ed. note: Yes, I’m aware that it’s “more often.”