If you look into the Cubs’ dugout during a game over the last seven years, there’s one thing you’ll almost always see.
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo together.
Whether it’s chatting in the clubhouse, where their lockers are next to each other, or in the on-deck circle, as they’ve hit back-to-back almost their entire careers, the two Cubs superstars have a knack for being in the same place at the same time.
The natural chemistry between the two franchise cornerstones has been a hand-in-glove fit. Even the final out of the Cubs’ first World Series title in 108 years felt poetic, with the game’s last play going from Bryant to Rizzo.
Two extraordinary talents with two different personalities ended up in the same place with one goal — to be the anchors of what the Cubs hoped would be the first World Series championship team in over a century.
Not to mention two different paths to even get to the North Side. Rizzo had the nonlinear path after being traded by the Red Sox and Padres before finding a home in Chicago.
Bryant, on the other hand, had the prototypical path of a blue-chip prospect, going from No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft to being on the fast track to the big leagues.
But their connection that over the years has resembled a scene from the movie “Step Brothers” didn’t just manifest out of thin air. As a matter of fact, it took time to develop on their way to becoming what fans around baseball now know as “Bryzzo.”
July 12, 2013
On a bright and sunny afternoon at Wrigley Field nearly eight years ago, Bryant and Rizzo would cross paths for the first time. Bryant was in town to sign his first contract (after being the Cubs’ first-round pick in 2013) and take part in his first workout.
The third baseman recalls the nerves leading up to his first batting practice and how he wanted to put on a show for those who were watching.
But as he emerged from the dugout and got loose before the workout began, the team’s young first baseman stopped him in his tracks.
“He’s got his long, curly hair back then, and as I put my stuff down for BP, he yells, ‘Look who’s buying the spread today, guys.’ Obviously, because I had gotten a big signing bonus. My first impression of him was like, why is he such a jerk to me?” Bryant said. “I didn’t know that was a joke at the time. I was just like, ‘This dude is kind of a jerk.’ ”
Rizzo always has been one to use humor to add levity to any situation. Creating a relaxing environment for those around him was something he learned when he was in Bryant’s position from players such as Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro.
But with the eyes of Chicago and the baseball world on the then-21-year-old Bryant, cracking a few jokes at his expense was Rizzo’s way of making the team’s top prospect feel at home, even if he didn’t know it yet.
“I’ve been in that position in San Diego where you’re supposed to come in and be the saving grace,” Rizzo remembered. “Everyone on the team was pretty much a first-rounder. KB, Schwarbs [Kyle Schwarber], Javy [Baez], Albert [Almora].
“That’s a lot of weight to carry. I wasn’t a first-rounder. I don’t know what that’s like. So my job was always to make sure when they came in, to make them as comfortable as they can be and help them just relax, be themselves and not change.”
Feb. 18, 2014
The next spring is when the two superstars say their bond really began, going from just being two players in the same organization to being two players who understood each other.
But beyond baseball, Bryant and Rizzo were beginning to create the framework of a true friendship, one that would carry them well beyond the playing field.
“I really got to know him,” Bryant said. “And it’s really fun to joke around with him about that first experience now, because now I know exactly who he is and how good of a person he is and how good of a friend he is. But I’ll tell him, ‘My first impression of you was not very good.’ ”
“You just knew he was a special talent,” Rizzo said. “It was so cool to come into spring training [in 2014] and work with him. The way he works and the way he is about the game. It was just really cool to see him from step one to becoming the rookie of the year, becoming the MVP. It was really cool to be part of that.”
In the dugout, in the batting cage and all around the team’s complex in Mesa, Arizona, the two were inseparable with a natural big brother-little brother energy.
Obviously, both players were supposed to be a big part of the team’s future, but no one knew they would connect as fast as they did — not even the guys who put the team together.
“We didn’t know. Not really,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said. “One of the beauties of Rizzo is that he kind of gets along with everybody. He’s so affable and just cares about winning. And with KB, his personality blends really well with Rizz. I don’t think I could have necessarily predicted they’d have this great relationship and friendship. But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense given both of their personalities.”
April 17, 2015
It didn’t take long for their chemistry to materialize on the field. After Bryant’s debut in 2015, he and Rizzo quickly became one of baseball’s most feared duos.
Over the years, when they have had success, most often, the Cubs have had success. If you ask around the organization about what drives both of them, you’ll hear about the drive to be the best and the desire to win. Having the franchise’s two cornerstones be aligned outside of baseball, but also in their goals on the field, it’s easy to see why success always has followed them.
Since they began playing together in 2015, the Cubs are 19-6 when Bryant and Rizzo homer in the same game, including 2-0 in the postseason.
Bryant was crowned the 2016 NL MVP after a monster season, following it with a top-seven finish in voting in 2017, and he likely will have a top-10 finish this season. Rizzo has been considered one of the most consistent first basemen in the last decade, with top-five finishes in MVP voting in 2015 and 2016.
“They understand the pressure that they both have to perform for the team to be good,” manager David Ross said. “I think they understand that there’s a lot of pressure in being the face of the franchise and can talk about it and know that no matter what, they gotta bring it every single day.”
One thing Ross can relate to with his former teammates and now players, is what it’s like to be tied at the hip with someone.
Ross and former Cubs ace Jon Lester had a similar relationship, with Ross being the left-hander’s personal catcher for many years.
“Jon and I really got close through our interactions on the field,” Ross said. “I was this grumpy old guy, and a lot of the success I was able to have was because he took my grumpy feedback and understood my competitive nature. It was very little brother-big brother because I really wanted him to have success.
“I think what’s different for KB and Rizz is that there’s a relatability that they have that nobody can really relate to but them. That’s what makes their relationship so special.”
It’s almost impossible to think of one without the other. No matter where they play, because of what they’ve accomplished together and the bond that they’ve formed for almost a decade, they’ll forever be remembered together.
They’ve even joked through the years that they’re a package deal and where one goes, the other will follow. That’s something Cubs fans hope gets the team’s attention toward keeping them around long-term.
“I could talk crap about him all day, ” Bryant joked. “Nah, he’s kind of like a magnet. You know what I mean? People just gravitate to him. Always. We’ll be hanging out, and people will just come over. That guy attracts good energy to him, and I love that about him.
“He’s just that dude that glues everybody together and gets people kind of out of their shell. Looking back, that’s what he was trying to do to me when I first got signed. Just wanted to get me out of my shell.”
Even in the role of big brother, Rizzo doesn’t take for granted how much having Bryant by his side has helped bring out the best in him.
“He’s really easy to get along with,” Rizzo said. “It’s just easy to talk to him, especially about the game, but even outside. With extremely high expectations year in and year out, the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, it’s easy for us to talk about it. After all these years, I know he understands me and it’s easy to just be able to kind of weather the storm with somebody when it’s bad and enjoy it when it’s good.”
No one knows what the future holds for Bryant or Rizzo. And while the thought of them not playing together seems strange, it’s no secret that both players are in the final year of their contracts.
The special connection the Cubs’ duo has formed doesn’t come around too often, and neither does the success they’ve had together. Just like Cubs legends Ernie Banks and Billy Williams before them, Bryant and Rizzo’s greatness together has had a big impact on an entire generation of fans.
As the Cubs try to make one more push for October, what they’ll represent in Chicago and in baseball will be remembered long after their time with the Cubs is done.
“I just think it’s great,” Bryant said. “It’s great for us, obviously, because we’ve established a really good friendship and one that goes well beyond our playing years. But it’s really cool to see the club’s history with some of the greats and how they’ve played together here.
“Anthony and I established this nickname of ‘Bryzzo’ and have just been able to go out there and grind together on the field and then be good friends off the field. So I just think it means a lot to the history of the organization to have us here for so long and be able to produce at some of the levels that we have.”