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updated: 6/26/2012 11:21 PM

Rizzo has time, Cubs on his side

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  • New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis, right, has a perspective on what the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo might be going through.

    New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis, right, has a perspective on what the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo might be going through.


At least Anthony Rizzo doesn't have to be the savior.

That's Theo Epstein's job.

Rizzo won't need to walk on water, but he should get used to skating on thin ice -- and probably shouldn't stray far from shore for a while.

Such is life for the latest and greatest of Cubs prospects.

Many have come this way before, and most have gone the way of Scot Thompson and the Edsel, doomed to a life of failed promise and impossible expectations.

Seriously, all Rizzo needs is to be Billy Williams and Cubs fans will be satisfied. Until then, it will be hard to mollify the masses.

"I think it's really important that you don't all of a sudden change who you are because everyone knows your name," said Mets first baseman Ike Davis, as we watched Rizzo take batting practice Tuesday at Wrigley Field. "It's the same game. It's still baseball.

"(Rizzo) is going to do great because he's got a lot of talent. But he's also going to have a bad week or a bad month because everyone up here does. Players struggle all the time here, even the best players in the game.

"The key is that he maintains the belief in himself that he's always had."

Davis knows a little bit about living up to the hype in a big city as a 22-year-old. He was the same age in the spring of 2010 when he hit .480 in camp and the Mets sent him down, trying to delay the inevitable and diffuse expectations.

He arrived a few weeks later and tore the cover off the ball, finishing the season second among N.L. rookies in OPS (.791), runs (73), walks (72) and extra-base hits (53). He was third in RBI (71) and home runs (19).

Davis set the Mets' rookie record for total bases (230) and surpassed Darryl Strawberry's Rookie of the Year season in several categories.

Two years later, he's hitting .192.

"Nothing about that first year was easy," Davis said. "It's still not easy. This game is hard."

Rizzo found that out last year in San Diego when he came up expecting to hit like he did in the minors, only to find the baseball difficult to locate.

"I didn't see that coming at all," Rizzo said Tuesday when he met the Chicago media. "What I learned last year was that I can't try to do too much, and instead of worrying about getting hits, just see the ball like I know how, and hit it the way I know.

"The harder you try in this game, the harder you make it."

Davis' story is a cautionary tale. Just 13 months ago he was a rising star and a franchise cornerstone. He started off 2011 even better than his rookie year, but a freak collision and ankle injury limited him to only 36 games last season, and he is still trying to find his swing again.

"No matter how good you are, you have struggles up here," said Davis, who has 9 homers and 37 RBI. "What you worry about with a young guy is if people expect you to be an all-star right away, it can affect you."

Rizzo, who nearly equals the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Davis in stature, already has been through the deliverer debacle.

"I was the savior last year in San Diego, too, so I know what that's like," Rizzo said confidently. "I think it's easier now having been through that."

Rizzo doesn't seem to lack the talent, poise or toughness it will take to survive the next year or two on the North Side of Chicago, but as one of the few players fans will pay to see, the pressure will mount.

"If it were a small city," said Davis, whose dad, Ron, pitched for both the Yankees and the Cubs, "the whole world wouldn't know it when you're doing badly."

Rizzo will find Chicago welcoming, and it's certainly not his fault that the front office, media and fans have conspired to make him a legend at 22 after his only big-league time in San Diego was a disaster.

"Hopefully we'll look back on this," Rizzo said, "and remember this was the start of something great."

While Rizzo took batting practice Tuesday, Williams leaned on the cage with great interest, as proud parents Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod stood in formation only a few feet away.

As for his monumentally important first Cubs game, Rizzo was the beneficiary of generous official scoring calls that turned an error into a single in his first at-bat and a single into a double in his third trip to the plate.

In his second at-bat, he tried to yank a low, outside pitch with runners on and grounded out to Davis at first, but an opposite-field liner drove in the game-winning run in the fourth.

He looked overmatched on pitches high and inside, and slow on pitches low and inside. On pitches over the plate and high outside, he looked like a batting champ.

Officially, he went 2-for-4 with a double, RBI and postgame shaving-cream pie in the face, and looked very good at first base in the Cubs' 5-3 victory over the Mets.

"I'm coming up here to try to establish myself as an everyday player," Rizzo said. "I'm here to stay."

Anthony Rizzo then left the interview room, turned the wrong way and had to be told he was headed in the wrong direction.

The reality is, it won't be the last time.

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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