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Emma: All-Star Honor A Milestone In Rizzo’s Maturation

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. (Getty Images)

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. (Getty Images)

Chris Emma mug Chris Emma
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com,...
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By Chris Emma-

CHICAGO (CBS) — In the early hours of Friday’s work day in Wrigley Field’s front office, an unexpected visitor appeared through the front door.

Dressed in team-issued blue workout clothes, Anthony Rizzo interrupted the morning’s work with an announcement. He provided a sincere offering of gratitude for all who helped support and promote the successful final vote campaign that led to the 24-year-old’s first All-Star Game appearance.

This was a feat that meant the world to Rizzo. The backing from the organization, teammates and fans made it even more special.

“It’s an accomplishment that I’ll cherish forever,” Rizzo said.

The All-Star selection culminates Rizzo’s rough settling in Chicago, bridging a disappointing start to a promising future. Perhaps this is just the start of a special career for the first baseman.

Rizzo believes this to be true. That’s what made Thursday’s clubhouse announcement of the victorious final vote campaign offer vindication. It was a victory for surviving the struggles of his young career, providing something to treasure while looking toward a promising future.

“You grow up and you want to be an All-Star,” Rizzo said. “An All-Star in little league, All-Star in high school, travel leagues, All-Star in minor leagues, too. To be in the big leagues, there’s no higher accomplishment. It’s the best of the best.”

This campaign has seen Rizzo slug 20 home runs in 93 games, just three shy of his total from a miserable 2013. His .879 OPS is one of the best marks in the National League. But above all, the Cubs have witnessed the birth of a leader amid the back end of a rebuilding process.

Just before the final vote results were revealed, Rizzo was slamming his glove and hat to the Great American Ballpark grass while challenging the entire Cincinnati Reds dugout after flame-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman nearly hit several Cubs with pitches.

Beyond taking an unselfish stand, Rizzo is constantly providing support for his teammates. When the final vote was needed, they returned the favor.

“It was a big moment,” said Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who joins Rizzo at the All-Star Game. “Everybody enjoyed it on the team, because everybody was voting for him.”

Added Cubs manager Rick Renteria: “He’s got a little bit of heart. He’ll do what it takes to be a leader. Everybody gravitated to him.”

This is the Rizzo the Cubs hoped for — the first baseman who Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer traded for and invested in. Rizzo has become a big bat in the middle of the Cubs’ order and a team-first leader in the clubhouse. Through the club’s last-place seasons, he maintains a winning attitude.

The maturation of Rizzo can be best reflected in his greatest thrill to be received in the All-Star festivities, which start tonight at Target Field in Minneapolis and continue with the game tomorrow.

“I’m looking forward to Derek Jeter, seeing him,” Rizzo said. “He’s a childhood hero. I can always say I was part of his last All-Star Game. He’s just a true definition of a professional, with everything he’s done in his career — on the field and off the field. Just to be a part of his last All-Star Game, it will be surreal. I’ll just be very wide-eyed and soak it all in.”

Nothing quite beats the first time, something Rizzo embraces in his All-Star Game appearance. This may be the first of many more.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.