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Cubs’ Kris Bryant returns to Las Vegas for Big League Weekend

It had been less than a month since Kris Bryant stood before the media at Las Vegas Ballpark and fielded questions about trade rumors, grievances and impending fatherhood.

But because he’s Kris Bryant, the most accessible of the Las Vegas sports superstars, he stood before local reporters again Saturday morning and answered additional questions before the Chicago Cubs played the Cincinnati Reds in the second round of Big League Weekend at Las Vegas Ballpark.

About the only things that had changed since the last Q&A was that instead of a stocking hat, the Las Vegas slugger was wearing a ball cap, and his wife and former high school sweetheart, Jess, is a little more pregnant.

Oh — and a few days ago, Bryant and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo wore live microphones in a Cactus League game against the Angels and seemed to have a really good time.

“It was cool doing that mic’d up segment, showing our personalities,” said the former Bonanza High standout and National League MVP who is rumored to be on the trading block despite having two years remaining on his Cubs contract.

“Adding more of that, having fun. I think that’s what we need,” added the local slugger about what has been missing from the clubhouse since the Cubs won their first World Series title in 108 seasons in 2016. “I think the last couple of years we’ve been playing so tight and so stressed because we felt this enormous amount of expectation and pressure to continue to win, and it kind of hurt us on the field.”

He also said he was looking forward to wearing the mic again against the Reds and chatting up his hometown ballpark.

“The responses from the guys just walking through was that it is better than a lot of the big league clubhouses (in ballparks) we play in — and it’s five minutes from where I live, which makes it even better,” said Bryant, who will remain in Las Vegas when the Cubs resume training in Arizona to accompany his wife at an ultrasound session.

The Bryants are expecting their first child in April.

The ballplayer in the family shot a glance to the manicured field, where his father, Mike, a former Red Sox farmhand, was kibitzing with Rizzo and a few of the other Cubs. Kris Bryant flashed a smile wider than umpire C.B. Bucknor’s strike zone.

“I keep saying that I really don’t want (my son) to play baseball, but my dad will probably have a big say in that and be giving him baseballs and bats behind my back,” he said.

Around the horn

— A Cubs’ starting lineup that featured Bryant at third base, Rizzo at first and two-time American League All-Star Jason Kipnis at second base had the edge in marquee power over the split squad the Reds brought from their spring training digs in Goodyear, Arizona.

Second baseman Mike Moustakas, who signed a four-year, $64 million free-agent contract in December, and Aristides Aquino served as the Reds’ household names. Aquino hit seven home runs in his first 10 major league games (including three in one game against the Cubs) after being called up in August.

A lot of kids seated in the jammed pack grandstands who were wearing Joey Votto jerseys still seemed disappointed.

— One of the more recognizable names on Cincinnati’s Big League Weekend roster to Las Vegas baseball fans was Mark Payton, who belted 30 home runs in 118 games for the Triple-A Aviators during their inaugural 2019 season.

The Reds acquired the compact outfielder via the Rule 5 draft in December. So if he doesn’t make Cincinnati’s big league roster, he could wind up returning to the A’s, the Aviators’ parent club.

As much as he enjoyed christening the swimming pool in right-center field with home run balls, the personable Payton said he hopes this weekend will be the last he sees of the shallow end of the pool.

“Ideally the best situation would be to stay with Cincinnati and find a way to the big leagues. But I really enjoyed playing here,” he said.

— Trevor Bauer and most of Cincinnati’s pitching mainstays remained behind in Arizona, but Las Vegas Ballpark was prepared with protective scoreboard netting just in case.

Bauer made headlines in July when he tossed a baseball over the center-field wall after Indians manager Terry Francona came out of the dugout to remove him from a game.

The right-handed pitcher, one of the stalwarts of Cleveland’s 2016 World Series team that lost to the Cubs in seven games, was traded to the Reds three days after the meltdown.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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