Ex-Sox farmhand Rizzo lives up to hype in Cubs debut

Ex-Sox farmhand Rizzo lives up to hype in Cubs debut
June 27, 2012, 3:22 am

By Patrick MooneyCSN Chicago
CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo still had shaving cream inside his left ear, and across the gold chain hanging around his neck and the blue collar of his Cubs T-shirt.

The former Red Sox farmhand -- traded to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and subsequently dealt to the Cubs -- got the warning through his headset and heard Matt Garzas footsteps before the pie-in-the-face routine interrupted the postgame television interview by the dugout.

Inside the clubhouse late Tuesday night, the media pack surrounded Rizzo and spilled over into Ryan Dempsters locker. Dempster stood there in a towel and joked: If its going to be like this every day, Im going to have to switch lockers.

The Cubs expect the hype to fade at some point, but Rizzo lived up to it throughout a 5-3 win over the New York Mets in front of 34,064 fans at Wrigley Field.

The guys welcomed me with open arms, Rizzo said. I couldnt imagine a better start.

Making his debut in a Cubs uniform, Rizzo went 2-for-4 with an RBI double that showed some heads-up hustle. There was the groundball to first base that advanced two runners in the third inning, and the noise from the crowd when he blasted a ball to the warning track in right field in the seventh. His uniform was covered in dirt.

He didnt act like much of a kid, manager Dale Sveum said afterward. You cant teach the way he is at first base, the mannerisms (and) all that. Thats pretty impressive. You cant teach no panic.

On Monday afternoon, Rizzo got the word Cubs fans and the Chicago media were waiting on for weeks, if not months. After hitting .342 with 23 homers and 62 RBI in 70 games at Triple-A Iowa, he drove to Chicago, where there are great expectations.

Oh yeah, this is the best, Rizzo said. Pressure comes with every sport, and being in such a big market its even better. You have to perform and thats what its all about. But in order to perform, you have to prepare every day like it could be your last.

There will be no return trip to Des Moines. The executives in charge at Clark and Addison Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have known Rizzo since he was a high school kid in Florida and chose him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft with the Red Sox.

Im here to stay, Rizzo said. Im just going to work hard every day and learn, get better and go through the ups and downs of being a baseball player, the nicks and bruises. Thats about it.

That professional attitude and the perspective that comes from having beat Hodgkins lymphoma as a prospect in the Red Sox system has impressed the front office.

The 22-year-old Rizzo did exactly what was asked at Iowa lowering his hands, shortening his swing, developing a routine and improving his mental focus.

Hoyer regretted rushing Rizzo to the big leagues last season when he was the San Diego Padres general manager. But now that Hoyer has the same title with the Cubs, he feels like Rizzo is in a better place because of that experience (.141 average, one homer in 49 games).

Last year is going to be really good for him, Hoyer said. He struggled in the big leagues and had to get through that. He had to spend an offseason frustrated because he didnt do what he wanted to do.

Thats part of growing as a player and I think it probably gives him good perspective coming up here. It probably makes him a little bit hungrier as well, knowing he wants to prove some people wrong and get it right this time.

Maybe its because this is a 26-48 team, or because there are some solid veterans in the room, or because of the way Rizzo carries himself, or because the top prospect already made fast friends from their time together in Iowa, or some combination of all those factors. But there was no resentment you could sense in the clubhouse.

We were so happy today to see him in the lineup and see what he did, Alfonso Soriano said. I hope that he can do that more often.

Randy Wells could go only go three-plus innings, Scott Maine got his first career win and Carlos Marmol notched his 100th career save. But the big story once again was Rizzo. At least this time you could actually lay your eyes on him and not just the reports Sveum admitted he looked forward to getting in his e-mail inbox.

Rizzo gave Wrigley Field a thumbs-up review awesome and said it reminded him of the movie Rookie of the Year. He said he toned it down from the 20 or so guests he invited for his big-league debut last year with San Diego and this time just had close family in the stands.

Rizzo projected confidence and acted like he belonged. Around Chicago, he went almost unrecognized Monday night into Tuesday afternoon, except for the standard autograph seekers at the hotel.

All that is about to change, because Rizzo is now a billboard for The Cubs Way, and runaway expectations.

I was the savior last year in San Diego, too, Rizzo said. Hopefully, this is just a building block for whats to come here in this city and the organization. Thats all I can say about that. I think theres a lot of good things to come and maybe we can look back and this is one of the first steps.