Updated June 21, 2022 - 10:12 pm
According to Dorothy Gale in the “Wizard of Oz,” there’s no place like home.
But home is not where Kris Bryant wanted to be Tuesday night. Far from it. Which, to be frank, is where he would have rather been.
If Adidas made ruby red baseball cleats, and Bryant could click his heels together and be transported to the location of his choice, it would have been Miami, where his Colorado Rockies teammates were opening a three-game series against the Marlins.
Instead, the former Bonanza High standout found himself at Las Vegas Ballpark in his hometown for another rehab assignment with the Albuquerque Isotopes after injuring his lower back April 29.
It was just the latest in a litany of aches and pains that have hampered Bryant since his National League MVP season of 2016 when he led the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series championship since 1908.
He was part of the fire sale that saw the Cubs unload most of their high-priced stars before the 2021 trade deadline. Bryant hit .262 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in 187 at-bats as a rent-a-player for the San Francisco Giants before signing a seven-year, $182 million deal with the Rockies in mid-March.
Many were surprised that Bryant chose Colorado given the Rockies are not a playoff contender. At the same time, his penchant for hitting towering fly balls, combined with Denver’s mile-high altitude, was expected to be a boon to his home run total.
But Bryant has yet to go deep at Coors Field or anywhere else in 2022. In 17 games before being injured, he hit .270 with four RBIs.
“I don’t know if I want to say it’s a flare-up,” Bryant said after playing two games for the Rockies and aggravating his back following his first rehab assignment with Albuquerque. “Sometimes it’s hard to replicate a big league game, as much as you want to. When you’re rehabbing, it’s more like you go through the motions, touch and feel.”
Bryant is expected to update his progress during a news conference with local media before batting practice Wednesday. After watching him in a simulated game at Coors Field last weekend, Rockies manager Bud Black thought he might return to the lineup for this weekend’s series at Minnesota.
“The next five, six, seven days, we’ll see what lies ahead,” Black said after watching Bryant run the bases, play the outfield and take some swings in the batting cage in Colorado.
Sporting black tights in near 100 degree heat at Las Vegas Ballpark, the strapping 30-year-old four-time All-Star belted two home runs toward the end of batting practice as he worked on shaking off rust and regaining timing. About 15 minutes before the first pitch, dozens of fans, many of them young, formed a gaggle in the stands near the visitors’ dugout hoping to get Bryant’s autograph.
A few of the impatient ones settled for a rub on the head from Spruce the Goose, the Aviators’ mascot. But after Bryant was done stretching his back and other muscles, he sidled over to the tarp and signed everything he could before the national anthem.
He batted second and fouled out to right field after receiving a nice ovation from the hometown crowd his first time up. He struck out in his second trip and flied out to the warning track in left field his third time up before calling it a night.
The announced crowd of 7,106 included one spectator, seated in Section 118 behind home plate, who was watching No. 4 on the visiting team with a more discerning eye than most.
“Basically he hasn’t played since April 25, and that’s frustrating,” said Mike Bryant, Kris’ father. “But the Rockies wanted him to take his time (coming back).
“He feels great now. I’m pretty sure he’ll be there (in Minnesota on) Friday. But it’s going to be like spring training again. He’s going to need a couple of weeks to get going.”
There’s no place like home, and home may be where the heart is. But a weekend in Minnesota during the first weekend of summer may be just what the doctor ordered, provided Kris Bryant can avoid seeing one for a while.