Kris Bryant thinks back to the first time he met Joe Maddon. He was at the 2014 Winter Meetings to accept his Minor League Player of the Year Award.
"From the very get-go, I could tell he was a different manager," Bryant remembers. "He's kind of like a hippie in the way he talks."
Bryant had not played a major league game, and Maddon had not yet managed the Cubs. The franchise had not reached the postseason since 2008 and had not won a playoff series since 2003.
This winter, he has an NL Rookie of the Year Award, an All-Star nod and a 97-win season, with an NLCS appearance. Bryant's accomplishments added to his already flooding trophy closet. Before winning the Minor League Player of the Year Award, he was the 2013 National College Player of the Year.
Maddon gave Bryant a different type of season. As a manger, he is something fresh.
"He tells me how his day goes," Bryant says. "He wakes up, he goes to Starbucks, he rides his bike around the city. His chain broke one day on his bike.
"I like one of his sayings: 'Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.' It's really about why you start playing this game: Because it's fun and you enjoy it. He makes that point everyday even if we're struggling or not winning."
The Cubs won considerably more than they lost in 2015. In fact, they won 24 more games than they did in 2014. Bryant batted .275 with 26 home runs and 99 RBI after his April 17 call-up. He led all rookies in RBI (by 22), runs (87), doubles (31), on-base percentage (.369), slugging (.488) and WAR (6.0), and he tied with Joc Pederson for most home runs (26).
The success is only pushing Bryant this offseason.
"One thing I didn't do well last year was I didn't take advantage of hitting well off of lefties, so I'm trying to work on that," Bryant says. "I like to improve in all areas.
"A lot of people say the easy part is getting to the majors. The harder part is staying there."
Bryant is a centerpiece of Theo Epstein's youthful machine that should help the Cubs compete for years to come. Last season, Bryant and the Cubs looked like they may be on their way to the impossible. Chicago won the Wild Card Game against the Pirates and defeated the rival Cardinals in four games in the NLDS to reach an NLCS showdown with the Mets. The franchise has still not reached the World Series since 1945 and has not won the Fall Classic since 1908.
If the modern Cubs look like a team oblivious to their century of futility, that is because they are.
"We joke about it, but because we're so young, we're not really good on our history yet," Bryant says when asked about the Curse of the Billy Goat. "We're slowly learning. I think that's a good thing to be naïve to it. Once you start thinking, it could affect you on the field. We're not really in tune with it."
Bryant's roots lie far from Addison Street. He was born in Las Vegas, where he played Little League with reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper.
"We did play together quite a bit when we were around 10, 11, 12 years old," Bryant says. "We played on the same club teams. I played against him quite a bit too. We were very familiar with one another. To see what he's doing now, I completely expected that out of him. He was unbelievable when he was younger."
Bryant and Harper played together on a team called the Southern Nevada Bulldogs. Imagine the poor pre-teen pitchers who faced a Harper-Bryant 3-4 punch.
"We were pretty good," Bryant says with a laugh. "I don't think I was as highly-thought of as him though. He was on another level. You should have seen some of the baseballs, how far he'd hit them when he was 12 years old. It was pretty fun to watch. The more impressive part was watching him pitch and how hard he threw the ball. I don't know if he knew exactly where it was going, but he definitely was intimidating. He was also a really good catcher. I'm surprised now he's in the outfielder, but obviously his arm lets him play anywhere."
Harper is nine months younger but has already played three more MLB seasons than Bryant. Cubs pitchers ask Bryant for help dealing with Harper, but there is only so much he can do.
"I don't know if there's a good scouting report from Bryce Harper," he says.
Bryants says he has a relationship with Harper, but he leans more on his teammates for advice, as they "see [him] play every day." Come spring training, most of those teammates will be the same, but one particular face will be missing. Starlin Castro, previously the longest-tenured Cub after debuting in 2010, was traded to the Yankees last week. The Cubs, at the time of this interview, signed free agents Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.
"It's not fun losing a guy you enjoyed playing with," Bryant says. "Starlin was one of those guys. He taught me a lot. He's a great guy to be around. He loves smiling. It's tough to lose a guy like that, but I know the two guys we got are they same type of people. They enjoy playing. They enjoy winning."
The Cubs have also since added outfielder Jason Heyward. Lackey and Heyward both come from the Cardinals. All three major pickups are former All-Stars.
For those Cubs fans worried, Bryant says he does not have much to do with the grievance over manipulation of service time he filed over a week ago. In 2015, the Cubs conveniently called Bryant up on April 17, meaning he had 171 days of MLB service time, one day under the minimum for a full year of service. This allows the Cubs to hold on to Bryant until 2021 instead of 2020. In short, the grievance claims Bryant was withheld from the majors for contractual purposes as opposed to skill reasoning.
"I don't really have anything to do with it," he says. "It really is a union matter. They're the ones to comment on it. I'm kind of out of the loop."
Cubs fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Bryant is all-in on the Windy City. Whether he is under contract through 2020 or 2021, Bryant has a half-decade to put his heart and soul into one of baseball's rowdiest cities.
Although the Blackhawks paraded the Stanley Cup around bars in Wrigleyville after winning a championship in June, Bryant steers away from the historic area.
"I actually don't hang around there too much," he says. "It's too crazy for me. I try to find places more low-key. Definitely driving though there is fun. I let the fans enjoy that."
Bryant spoke to ThePostGame on behalf of Stouffer's Fit Kitchen. He hosted a Fit Kitchen Tailgate Takeover in Chicago before the Bears game this past Sunday.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.