By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (670 The Score) — As much as they’ve focused on acquiring supreme talent, the Cubs have also made it a point to add players with the high character that they seek.
One of those who personifies that quality is first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who’s the longest-tenured Cub. The 28-year-old Rizzo has become the voice of the team without declaring himself the man.
“We have a lot of leadership on this team,” Kris Bryant said. “But I think that it all starts with Rizz. He has been here the longest and is such a consistently outstanding player. The one the thing that separates him is the off-the-field contributions. That is so impressive to watch him help people and interact with so many he deals with.”
Rizzo recently returned from his hometown in Parkland, Florida after the devastation of a mass shooting killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, his alma mater.
“I embrace coming in every day being myself,” Rizzo said. “I believe in being a good example for everyone. Over the years, it’s crazy how much you pick up from guys saying this and that. I have caught onto that the over the last few years. I just come in here trying to be me and have fun. I want to bring that energy that needs to be brought every day. I hope everyone else feeds off of that and likes what I am doing.”
Rizzo is entering his seventh season with the Cubs and as a veteran, he’s becoming realistic about his playing time in the long season. Earlier in his career, Rizzo wanted to play 162 games every season. He did come close in 2015, playing in 160. In the past three years, he’s only sat out 14 games total.
Now, Rizzo understands the value of off days. Manager Joe Maddon has even asked infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist to take some time at first base this spring in preparation for some time there in the regular season to help keep Rizzo fresh.
“You have to be smart about it,” Rizzo said. “I think we are very good with it. Joe and I and the coaches know if I start to grind a little bit and need a day off, we will prepare for it. I prepare for 162, but at the same time, I can say I want to be a big tough guy. Days off are necessary. Whether it’s the mind that tells me 162, there will be days when something is going on and just need to take a day. A day off then pays dividends in the long run. I will tell you what: When you play a lot and you can just sit back on the bench and watch, to be honest, sometimes I wish I was in the stands. It is nice to have a day because you are so all in the rest of the time. It is definitely nice to get a day off and kick back at a slower pace.”
Rizzo has been known to make predictions in offseasons or spring trainings past, but he’s making no such proclamations now, except that the Cubs will be prepared and ready to win.
“It just wasn’t the same intensity,” Rizzo said of the Cubs’ slow start in 2017. “It is really hard to explain. I think we will admit it. We were there every day. We were present every day. We were giving it our best and it wasn’t the same (as the 2016 championship season). We grinded all year. That is baseball. We just got beat the first half. We could come out this year and the same thing could happen. So, we’re prepared for either way.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.