By Allison Duffy-Davis
He’s just 24 years old, but since April 2015, Kris Bryant has made his Major League debut, played in an All-Star Game, carried Chicago to the NLCS and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Oh, and did we mention that after all this he got engaged to his high school sweetheart and went swimming with sharks?
Now, Bryant, a graduate of Peccole Little League in Las Vegas, Nev., is out to one-up his thoroughly impressive list of 2015 accomplishments. That may only be possible with a trip to the World Series. “I don’t know if this season can top it,” he admits, “but I’m certainly going to try.”
The cubs are a very young team, and it seems like you guys have a lot of fun together. How would you describe the dynamic?
The Cubs are a very young team, and it seems like you guys have a lot of fun together. How would you describe the dynamic?
It’s fun every day here. A lot of us are pretty close in age and we relate to each other on that level. We bring DJs and animals to the field, and really get to experience the fun of baseball being on the Chicago Cubs.
What’s it like playing for a quirky manager like Joe Maddon?
Everybody should do it. I think the game is shifting a little bit to having more fun and not taking things so seriously during times like [Spring Training]. Obviously on the field, you take it very seriously. But Joe is just a trip. He’s so much fun to play for and he keeps it light in the clubhouse. I’ve enjoyed my time with him so far.
How did it feel to win the NL rookie of the year award?
Winning that award was a huge honor. There are a lot of guys, even in this clubhouse, who were very deserving. You only get one year to win it, and I had a lot of good competition. It was definitely one of my favorite things so far in my baseball career.
After that you had quite an exciting offseason, too.
I couldn’t have written it better myself. Having an unbelievable year, both individually and as a team, and then in the offseason getting engaged and swimming with sharks, I just really enjoyed it.
What made you decide to go swimming with sharks?
We were like, “Why not do it? We’re in Hawaii.” I guess like “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” I get terribly seasick when I’m on a boat, but I just thought, “I have to do this and say I swam with sharks.” It’s once-in-a-lifetime.
I was underwater in the cage for 20 minutes — just enough time to get sick. I’m never going to do it again, but it was fun.
Do you know what kind of sharks they were?
They were Galapagos sharks and sand sharks. No Great Whites or tiger sharks. They said those are the scary ones.
After such a huge year in 2015, what were your expectations for the 2016 season?
I’m just really looking at this year as a continuation of last year, with a little break in the middle for the offseason. Just trying to build upon things from last year, both as a team and individually. I think there are some things that I can work on and get better at, and as a team that we can get better at, too. It’s going to be exciting to see the changes and how much better we can become.
The vibe that I’m getting from everybody is that our expectations are bigger than anybody else’s out there. We expect a lot out of ourselves, and we’re holding each other accountable. We hear a lot of the speculation, but as professionals, our own expectations are through the roof.
How did it feel to be named to the NL All-Star team during your rookie season?
That was so much fun, especially having my whole family there and having my dad throw to me during the Home Run Derby. To do it in my first year, too, was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I’ll definitely remember it for a very long time.
At the time, I was just in awe. Ken Griffey Jr. was there. I was competing against Albert Pujols in the Home Run Derby. Four years ago, I never would have thought I would do that. It was an unbelievable experience.
Are there any current players who you try to emulate on the field?
Most recently, Evan Longoria. He’s a very underrated player, but he’s one of the best third basemen in the game. I can learn a lot from watching him, defensively and at the plate.
Could an MVP award be in the cards for you next?
It would certainly be awesome. Typically I don’t set goals around awards, but I think if I do things the right way and focus on the team and helping us win — I’ve always done it that way — things will turn out for the better. So I’ll just continue doing that and see where things go.
What are some of your greatest youth baseball memories?
My favorite one was hitting my first home run. It was during coach-pitch practice for my team at Peccole Little League in Las Vegas. My dad had told me that if I hit a home run, he’d give me $100. And at the time, I was like, “$100? I can get so much with that.”
So, I hit my first home run and was running around the bases, and my dad was waiting for me at third base. He picked me up and gave me the biggest hug. I don’t even think I made it to home plate. But that still sticks out as one of my greatest baseball memories.
What advice do you have for kids who are playing the game now or want to play?
Enjoy it and do it because you truly love it, not because anyone is telling you to do it. My parents never told me to get out there and practice. It was always me wanting to. I just loved the game.
I used to go out in the cul-de-sac with my friends and play 3-on-3 Wiffle Ball. Just getting out in the street and playing helps you develop hand-eye coordination. It’s nothing serious, but all of that practice translates into real games.
Do you pay attention to stats?
I try not to look at stats. I did that so much in high school, and it can really cloud your vision. You can’t focus on the numbers; they’re always changing. My dad has always said, “You are who you are as a player, and you’re going to end up where you’re meant to at the end of the year.” And he’s always right.
Allison Duffy-Davis is a managing editor for Major League Baseball. A version of this interview first appeared in the 2016 issue of Little League® Magazine published in April.