Wisdom, knowledge, perspective: What Rizzo has gained as he approaches 30
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Believe it or not, this is the baseball season Anthony Rizzo turns 30 years old.
Just don't remind him.
"This is all done," he said, turning away from the interview in mock outrage at the subject being broached. "It's crazy. I remember posing for a picture on Instagram that I was in the 25-and-under club. What was that, 2015, when everyone first got called up when we were all 25 years old and younger? Four short years later … but I feel like every year I gain more wisdom and knowledge.
"Not that I'm an old grizzly veteran, but it's weird because I always heard when I was 21 or 22, 'Wait 'til you get to 28 or 29, to my age, your body starts (hurting).' My body feels better than it ever has."
Rizzo hits the big 3-0 on Aug. 8. We're a long way from that June day in 2012 when the Chicago Cubs brought him up from the minor leagues, and he greeted everyone with, "Hi, I'm Anthony."
Now, everyone knows Rizzo's name and his accomplishments as the Cubs' first baseman.
Perhaps as much as wisdom and knowledge, Rizzo has gained perspective over the years. Part of his character has been forged through illness and tragedy. He beat cancer in 2008 while a minor-league player in the Boston Red Sox organization.
Last year, he provided aid and comfort to his high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, the site of a mass shooting.
As a cancer survivor, he is a regular visitor to children in hospitals.
"I think perspective comes from how I was raised, my family, my mom's side and my dad's side, giving to others," he said. "With this platform we have, we can give. It's amazing. My wife, Emily, is all on board. She serves others, too. She makes sure everyone is happy, just like my parents.
"It's definitely something that as a baseball player, it's good to go and do that during the season and in the off-season because we're so lucky here. We're spoon-fed here with all the amenities we have. It's very easy to lose sight of how lucky we are."
Rizzo formed the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in 2012 to help raise money for cancer research and to provide support to families of children battling the disease.
Many of Rizzo's hospital visits go unpublicized, without cameras and media present.
"There are certain times you bring the cameras, and there are certain times no," he said. "It's not about, 'Look what I'm doing.' It's more of with these kids, I've been through that battle -- the sickness, the cancer. I had (Cubs pitcher and cancer survivor) Jon Lester talk to me and tell me advice that was amazing. There was no cameras around for him.
"To be able to go talk to someone while wearing a Cubs uniform, whether they know who you are or not, whether they know my name or my story, to just be able to talk to them and bring a smile is just so rewarding a feeling. They're going through their toughest time in their life. To be able to lift them up for a few seconds, it's only temporary, but hopefully that could last forever."
On the baseball field this spring, Rizzo is all business.
Like most of his Cubs teammates, he used the longer winter -- due to the Cubs losing in the wild-card game -- to get into playing shape early.
Rizzo was a ground-floor player in the Cubs' rebuild, and he said last year's early exit stung after the Cubs had made three straight appearances in the National League championship series and won the World Series in 2016.
"We all felt it," he said. "We were all kind of angry and (ticked) off that we lost. These years can't be taken for granted, not that we take them for granted at all, but we have something special here. We have the potential to have something more special. Every day is a new opportunity for us. It's about us going and getting it."
Rizzo also said he heard and took to heart the comments made after the season by team president Theo Epstein, who said it's time to talk about "production" rather than "potential" for the team's young players.
Although Rizzo is a proven commodity, he says he knows where the boss is coming from. He also praised manager Joe Maddon for bringing the young players along these past few years.
"Joe has done an amazing job," he said. "Guys got thrown into the fire here. KB (Kris Bryant), thrown into the fire. Addy (Addison Russell), (Kyle) Schwarber, every guy knows no different, doesn't know what losing is like, was thrown into the fire -- let's go. Our expectations are to win the World Series, not to get to the World Series, to win the World Series.
"The way everyone has handled it, we have these expectations, we're scrutinized so much because of what our goal is. If we are the 2013 Cubs and we're trying to get to the playoffs and we had the year that we had last year, everyone loves us. Right? It's a good thing that we're pushed this hard."