Mark Gonzales: Rizzo in Yankee pinstripes still takes some getting used to
The sight of watching Anthony Rizzo chugging a cup of suds at a hockey game last week wasn't surprising for those who have known him to seek a good time, whether it's finding a party area adjacent to the dugout where he and his Cubs teammates would celebrate a victory, or calling Freddie Freeman "Fredrick" while chasing him in a rundown while wearing a microphone.
But last week's scene at Madison Square Garden -- with Rizzo wearing a New York Rangers sweater -- captured the reality that will sober those fans who plan to see him wearing Yankee pinstripes in a four-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field.
For the last 9½ months, Rizzo hasn't been a Cub. Good for him. Good for the Cubs.
It's best for all parties. In many instances, "they say hello when they should be saying goodbye," as one former colleague once described a baseball player who suddenly became more friendly with teammates and reporters after it became apparent his days with his current team were numbered despite his wishes.
In the case of Rizzo, a desire to win another World Series title persists. That stands a better chance of occurring sooner with the New York Yankees -- closer to where his parents grew up -- than the rebuilding Cubs despite being one of the pillars that helped build a 2016 Series title but regressed in his final 1½ seasons.
"He obviously was torn up (about the trade)," longtime Cubs teammate Kyle Hendricks said last week. "He loved it here. This is all he knew, and he still talks about how much fun he had here.
"But I've seen his comments about wanting to make new memories there. He loves winning at the end of the day. That's the bottom line for him."
It was fitting that Rizzo and DJ Lemahieu, another former Cub, flanked slugger Aaron Judge in the front row as they threw down their refreshments.
Judge, 30, remains the center of attention because of his slugging prowess, his homegrown roots and his impending free agency after this season.
Rizzo has earned recognition for his nine home runs and taking advantage of Yankee Stadium's short right field dimensions, which makes him a better fit than if he and the Cubs would have extended their partnership.
Rizzo, 32, publicly acknowledged in January 2020 that his days with the Cubs could be numbered after his representatives were denied the chance to discuss a contract extension, adding that the business of baseball was "cutthroat."
Until that point, Rizzo and some of his teammates had the keys to the house and the car. The firing of Chili Davis after the 2018 season reinforced that belief, only to change after the Cubs failed to reach the playoffs the following season.
Rizzo was asked to report to visiting ballparks sooner. But Rizzo already was set in his daily routine, in which he never compromised his preparation. On the road, Rizzo would perform his pregame work at the hotel's workout room with a few teammates under team supervision in the morning and arrive at the ballpark later than some of his teammates.
This wasn't an issue when the Cubs were advancing to the playoffs annually. Yet, changes were starting to develop around soon-to-be departing manager Joe Maddon, and the team should have concentrated more on the long road since none of their core players were close to signing extensions.
That would have meant trading Javier Baez, Kris Bryant or Rizzo sooner, with Rizzo the initial target.
Moving Rizzo would have been a difficult task, given his stature, a soft market for first basemen, and his commitment to several charities that fans adored. His thoughtfulness to the service workers during the onslaught of COVID-19 won't be forgotten.
But personnel, coaching and training changes already were evolving. It was next to impossible for President Jed Hoyer to re-sign all three big-ticket free agents. Rizzo's ever-present entourage was clipped by COVID-19 restrictions, although energetic dugout security officer Nick Collins remains on high alert with a lurking public address announcer and national anthem singer during pregame batting practice.
That won't be an issue at Guaranteed Rate Field, where his loyal and appreciative fans can root for him from the stands.
The sight of Rizzo wearing No. 48 remains strange, but the suds will taste the same when his supporters salute him.