Kris Bryant: Swapping home runs for home time
© Lear Miller
The former World Series winner reflects on baseball’s lockdown, becoming a dad and returning to the game amid a global pandemic.
I remember the last normal thing I did before quarantine. Back in March, we were playing spring training games in my Las Vegas hometown, the team flew out early and a couple of guys got together to play golf.
Little did I know it would be the last time for months we would be able to do anything like that together. After the Vegas games, I drove back to Arizona and that’s when MLB canceled spring training.
I was under the impression it was going to be a short-term thing but none of us really knew. I went back home to Vegas and continued all my baseball training at the house. I didn’t think it would be three-and-a-half more months until we finally got to be on a baseball field again.
But that wasn’t even the biggest thing on my mind. My wife was eight months pregnant and her water broke early the morning of April 7. We were on edge getting to the hospital and it was a ghost town. It was just us and another couple on the floor having a baby, so it was the weirdest experience.
After that, it was the new experience of waking up every two hours to feed him and change his diaper. That really got me at the beginning, because I'm a pretty good sleeper. I usually sleep all through the night and don't really wake up. Now I was waking up three to four times a night and I almost felt sick because I'm not used to this. Changing the first diaper is not very fun either!
Looking back at it, there was a silver lining with baseball’s shutdown because I got to enjoy being able to go to those final doctor appointments in the last month of pregnancy with my wife. I was there for the birth and I didn't have to go back to baseball after three or four days.
The time-off also allowed me to do more in the community, which I really enjoy. I surprised some youth baseball players a couple of times which was fun! Kids are pretty bummed that they're not able to play baseball, so simply showing your face on a Zoom call and talking to them about all kinds of things can sometimes give them hope and put a smile on their face.
With my training, that too was over Zoom or the phone. My trainer sent me workouts, but it was hard because I had just come out of an off-season of three to four months of training non-stop and a little break for half of a spring training and then it's almost like you jump back into that off-season mode.
It's very hard to stay in that mode when all you want to do is get out there and play baseball games. Fortunately for me, I have a batting cage. I did a lot of swimming pool workouts in the 105-degree Vegas heat and I bought a bike. I rode around the neighborhood to keep it fresh and interesting - not just the same workout.
The last time I wasn’t playing baseball in the summer was when I was seven and, even then, I was playing club ball. We all had an expectation that it probably would restart but I didn’t realize how quick it would happen.
It was like, “OK, pack your bags” - we had to be there in Chicago on July 1. It was a little stressful with a newborn but that's what we all signed up for as players. We wanted to get out there as soon as we could. Since then, things have gone pretty smoothly for us as a family.
We are playing through a pandemic, so clearly there are a lot worse things out there to deal with than us playing baseball, but playing with no fans and with artificial crowd noise, it’s hard for all of us involved but we realize that we're providing entertainment for people who are at home or going through tough times.
Before the first game of the season, we all held a black unity ribbon in observation of Black Lives Matter. All the guys on our team talk and it’s important we're all unified in believing in basic human rights and treating everybody with respect. We needed to let our Black teammates know we have their backs in all of this. I'm super proud of that.
These days, staying safe between family and baseball weighs on me every morning I wake up. You realize how dangerous it is to travel or leave your hotel, so we've been taking precautions. I don't want to bring anything home to my son or my wife, or anyone else for that matter.
We need players to speak up, if they feel any sort of thing or have a slight cough. You have got to let someone know and sit out a game or two, but that could ultimately help everybody involved because it doesn't expose anybody else. This is not the season to be Mr. Tough Guy. You don't want to be someone who causes everything to shut down.
Overall, we're doing everything we can to stay as safe as we possibly can, but the virus is still getting in. Some of the general public think baseball should be in a bubble, but they don't think about the humans who are trapped in the bubble.
I love baseball, but I don't know if I love it enough to be away for a long time from my family. I need to do all I can to keep them safe, but it's stressful each and every day I go to the field, go on the road, go on an airplane or go to my hotel room. It's always on your mind and it's hard to operate. Just so strange, so crazy.
We’re now heading into the playoffs and excited about this time of year. Even that’s unique with an expanded format of 16 teams making it in, less travel and a neutral site for the World Series, which has never happened before. Due to health and safety considerations, players and staff will be restricted to the hotel and the ballpark to cut down the chance of spread of COVID-19. Should be an interesting time. I wouldn’t expect it any other way with how 2020 has gone!