By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — They were kindred spirits for two memorable seasons. Now, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Cardinals center fielder Dexter Fowler will be enemies on the baseball diamond 19 times a season.
Fowler left the defending champion Cubs for the green grass of Busch Stadium and big bucks, signing a five-year, $82-million deal with St. Louis in December to shift sides in a historic rivalry. With that comes a different dynamic for the Rizzo-Fowler friendship, but it’s one that will continue to endure.
Rizzo will be awaiting the matchups against Fowler with great anticipation. The two just saw each other last weekend at Kris Bryant’s wedding in Las Vegas.
“I saw him at Kris’ wedding — I said, ‘I can’t talk to you anymore,'” Rizzo said. “It will be a friendly rivalry. I want to see him do well. He is a good friend. He was a world champion for the Chicago Cubs. He will be that forever, the rest of his life. No matter where he is playing or what jersey he is wearing, he will always be that.”
Rizzo was happy to see Fowler get a lucrative long-term contract this offseason after Fowler’s market didn’t materialize as he hoped when he was a free agent after the 2015 season. After waiting out free agency, Fowler signed with the Cubs late last February after spring training had already started. The contract was a one-year deal that included a mutual option for a second season. Fowler opted out after the Cubs won the World Series.
Rizzo will enjoy the Cubs-Cardinals games even more this season.
“The process (of free agency) did not work out for Dexter in 2015,” Rizzo said. “He went through it again and gets the contract he deserved. It is unfortunate for us he is not with us. He is a great friend, teammate and player. I told him I hope he goes 5-for-5 against us each game and we beat them every time. That would be the best outcome.”
The fact that Fowler has left doesn’t stop Rizzo from believing that the Cubs will be even better in 2017. Winning a second straight World Series is the main goal for Rizzo, who before the 2015 season started famously predicted the Cubs would win the division. They didn’t, but they did win 97 games, advance to the National League Championship Series and set the stage for their historic 2016 run.
Speaking Thursday, a day before Cubs Convention begins, Rizzo stayed away from any bold prediction.
“I predict pitchers and catchers will report to spring training on February 14th,” he joked before turning his attention to a few newcomers. “Wade Davis is a huge addition. He is a shutdown closer. Jon Jay is a nice addition. He is a guy who knows how to play. He is a winner and a gamer. I am pretty sure we were going to be the favorites this year even before that.”
The hunger is still there for the Cubs, Rizzo emphasized.
“When you are at where we are at, you want more,” Rizzo said. “Success is very addicting. You just want to keep going. All the perks that have come to all of us this year have been amazing. You see our guys on national talk shows. We had probably 20 guys on different talk shows, guys branching out doing everything. It’s amazing for the game. It is good for baseball. You want more. When I work out now, I think about how we can get that going again. I think everyone else will have that mentality as well.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.