Since 2013, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has been on quite a run. He is among league leaders in home runs since 2013, belting 92 of his career 108 since his first full season in the majors, tied with Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. At age 26, he’s become the leader of the newly improved Cubs, leading them to 97 wins along with a NLCS birth in 2016, where they were eventually swept by the New York Mets. Unfortunately for Rizzo, life hasn’t always been as easy as it is now.
In 2008 while playing for class A Greenville Rizzo was hitting an astounding .360, but all of the sudden his legs began to swell up to the size of sausages. After returning from a road trip, Rizzo said he had gained 15 pounds and not only were his legs swollen, but everything from his waist down was. After two weeks of testing, Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is a type of cancer that forms in the white blood cells called lymphocytes which are located in the immune system. Hodgkins can start anywhere, and usually spreads in step by step fashion going from lymph node to lymph node. Although Hodgkins normally has a very high survival rate that sits around 90%, finding out at age 18 that you have a disease that could possibly derail your career is traumatic for anyone to deal with. Rizzo showed his courage and willpower and underwent chemotherapy for 6 months. At the same time that Rizzo was battling this disease, his grandmother was battling breast cancer which didn’t make his own battle any easier. Rizzo could’ve easily just given up on his baseball career and focused on his own health and his grandmothers. Instead, he kept fighting and on September 2nd 2008, Rizzo entered remission and only had 6 more weeks of treatment. Two months later Rizzo was told he could live a normal life and continue his professional baseball career. Rizzo said his biggest supporter was his mother. “Although i didn’t really want her there, she insisted on being there, and was standing right next to me when the doctor walked in and told me the news” Rizzo said. When asked how she handled it, Rizzo said it wasn’t very well. “She was also dealing with my grandmother at the time, so it wasn’t easy.” Although he had cancer, Rizzo wanted to be treated like a normal person. ” I didn’t want to be treated as a cancer patient, I wanted to be normal.” Rizzo’s mom, with the help of Anthony himself, took the next step and she organized a 5k walk-a-thon to raise money for the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. Rizzo gained the motivation to fight back due to his own battle with cancer along with the passing of his grandmother due to it.
Rizzo’s leadership has shown both on and off the field. Rizzo is a regular at children’s hospitals, talking with young cancer patients encouraging them not to give up and to always fight until they can’t fight anymore. He feels that coming from a cancer survivor himself, it will help motivate the kids to fight like he did, since he received a lot of support and advice from teammate Jon Lester, who also had a battle with cancer. Rizzo has shown his leadership on the field by encouraging and motivating teammates to do better. Another example came back on July 9th 2014, when the Cubs were facing the Reds. Former teammate Nate Schierholtz was up to bat up in the top of the 10th inning when closer Aroldis Chapman buzzed a 103 MPH fastball that nearly struck Schierholtz in the head. Rizzo didn’t take calmly to that and began yelling at the Reds dugout. In the bottom of the inning Rizzo threw his glove and hat down and walked over ready to take on the whole Reds dugout- by himself- which lead to the benches clearing. “I was trying to be a good teammate’ Rizzo said. ” As a team we have to stick up for each other. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has appreciated how Rizzo has responded to being put into such an important role at such a young age. “I love that we put him into such an uncomfortable and unannounced position and he came through.” Maddon feels the veteran presence surrounding Rizzo has helped groom him into the leader he is.
Rizzo has become a role model for any kids and even young adults around the nation. He’s a proven example that no matter what happens, as long as you fight and have the support of people around anything is possible. Never give up.