CHICAGO -- The word "satisfied" and the Chicago Cubs simply don’t belong in the same sentence, not after they broke the longest championship drought in pro sports history and not after an offseason of talk shows and free meals. No one embodies that spirit more than reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant. He made it clear on Day 2 of the Cubs' fan convention that he wants more.
“The moment you are satisfied then you suck,” Bryant said Saturday before going on stage with his fellow infielders to answer questions from fans. “I hate being average or mediocre. I don’t want to settle or be complacent. I like moving around the field. I like improving. I like running the bases. I want more. I want more home runs.”
He does all those things really well right now, but Bryant wouldn’t be Bryant -- or the MVP -- if he took it easy just because he has had some success. In fact, the 25-year-old has had such a singular focus on baseball, he feels his recent marriage and all the endorsement deals he’s getting are actually a good distraction for him. It can’t all be about baseball.
“I love doing that stuff,” Bryant said. “I’m sure there will be a point where I say ‘no’ more, but it keeps me sane. So much in the game makes you crazy.”
So if he’s not satisfied, what can a player who hit .292 with 39 home runs, 102 RBIs and 121 runs scored last season do better?
“My dad says hit to the right side,” Bryant said. “I argue with him: ‘What if they’re pitching me inside? Then what?’”
Can’t the younger Bryant just say, "‘Hey, Dad, I won the MVP’”?
“I have thrown that at him, but I still feel the same as before,” Bryant said with a laugh. “I mean, I won the award, and I’ll get it next weekend [in New York], but it doesn’t change anything. I’m doing the same stuff.”
That includes taking a lot of swings at fastballs, sliders and changeups this winter. That last pitch -- the most difficult pitch to improve on in the offseason -- happens to be the one Bryant has struggled with. He hit just .139 off changeups in 2016, ranking him 142nd out of 146 qualified hitters. The league average off changeups was .239, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“You can’t really practice the changeup unless it’s live [batting practice], maybe,” Bryant explained. “But it’s a tough one to practice. You just need to see more of them in games. The guys that have really good changeups, you may not hit those, at least from the righties.
“My philosophy is just hit the other pitches before you get a changeup.”
Bryant’s goal last season was to cut down on his strikeouts. He reduced his total by 45 from 2015 to 2016 and wouldn’t mind one day getting to a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a nearly unheard-of figure for a slugger in today’s game.
“That would be ideal, but that’s hard to do,” said Bryant, who had 154 strikeouts to 75 walks in 2016, a 2-to-1 ratio. “If I wanted to, I think I could do it. If I set my mind to it.”
That, more than anything, is what makes Bryant scary and more than likely to improve his numbers off changeups. Every season of his amateur and professional career he has eliminated weaknesses and created new strengths. He grudgingly agrees with his hitting-coach father that, yes, he would like to go to right field more often when given the opportunity. In fact, he made a goal of doing that in September to prepare for the playoffs and had success.
“I did it a lot in the minors, so it’s just part of the process,” Bryant said. “If they jam me, I’ll still pull it.”
Balancing baseball and life has come easily so far for Bryant, but there’s plenty of hard work behind the awards and laid-back demeanor. As good as he is, he knows there’s more to life than baseball. That might not have always been the case, but Bryant feels the balance will help him be better.
“It keeps me grounded in that it’s not baseball all the time,” he said. “There needs to be something to shake it up a little bit, so I don’t go crazy.”