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updated: 7/14/2012 4:39 PM

Relishing the Anthony Rizzo show

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  • Associated PressWatching the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo at the plate is "pure fun and makes the decades spent ingesting endless baseball visuals feel somewhat useful," according to Matt Spiegel.

      Associated PressWatching the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo at the plate is "pure fun and makes the decades spent ingesting endless baseball visuals feel somewhat useful," according to Matt Spiegel.

 
 

When you reach a certain age, having seen enough ballplayers, everyone reminds you of someone.

Baseball is perfect for free association.

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It has been great fun to take in the first few weeks of young Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and let one's mind connect the dots.

There's that odd stance, a little bit like a left-handed Eric Davis. The knees are slightly bent, the back tilted back, the hands low. The bat is dangled down slightly and held loosely, bringing to mind just a hint of Mickey Tettleton.

Some have texted or tweeted with a visual likeness from their mind's eye. John Olerud. Will Clark.

Watching one Rizzo opposite-field home run, I picked up another layer of visual comparison.

He finishes with the bat held high, watching the ball fly from a comfortable half-squat. The knees are bent, the quads and hamstrings working hard. All the power produced from his lower trunk has been put into the swing, and he stands partially crouched to complete the follow through.

Myriad Jim Thome home runs flashed in my brain.

Some listeners on the Score have chimed in, saying they were reminded of Jason Giambi, switch hitter Mark Teixeira from the left side, and my favorite reference so far, Bobby Murcer.

I like them all. Most of them have some specific comparative merit, but more than anything it's pure fun. It makes the decades spent ingesting endless baseball visuals feel somewhat useful.

I'm watching Anthony Rizzo closely. Most Cubs fans are, too.

It's not that I'm crowning him as the long-lost savior of the franchise, or even as a definitive consistent slugger.

I'm in the knowledge acquisition business. We've all been waiting for him. So let's see what we have.

Is the hole in his swing from last season's San Diego disaster gone? Can he fend off or maybe even hit the stuff that once easily got him out? Is the swing shorter? Will he consistently hold those hands lower to help speed things up?

I see every at-bat I can, stopping activities, often switching the TV from a tie game to a blowout, trying to learn as much as possible.

So far, that first batch of questions all are answered with some version of yes.

But we still don't know if he can sustain and be excellent. Soon, Rizzo will have to go to the next level. Once pitchers have seen him and word has gotten out about the tendencies of this improved version, he'll have to adjust to their adjustments.

Last year as the Cubs' season started poorly and devolved further into a 71-loss death march, I often wanted Cubs television to broadcast a different way.

Give me a Starlin Castro iso-cam, I begged. Just film Starlin, then the lone viable future lineup piece. Show me Castro in the field, too, even when the ball doesn't go to him. Is the attentiveness there? Is thoughtful defensive positioning even being considered?

A year later, there's still Starlin to dissect for knowledge. And now he's not alone.

There has been a small, ardent core of Cubs fandom paying attention all season long. Suddenly, for sectors of the base that have bailed, the Cubs are now more watchable. Two players back-to-back worth your attention come to the plate four times a game.

As of Saturday morning, the Cubs were 10-4 since the 25th of June. Rizzo came up on the 26th, and has been tremendous. He has an OPS of 1.050, 6 multihit games, and 8 extra-base hits in 13 games.

No one knows if he can maintain -- and evolve as he must.

But I'll be watching.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM, and The Score's "Hit and Run" at 9 a.m. Sundays with his Daily Herald colleague, Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670. Matt thinks a runner trying to score from first on a double into the gap is the most exciting play in baseball.

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