MESA, Ariz. — An example of just how prevalent gun violence is in the United States?
In the last few months, the hometowns of both faces of the Chicago Cubs have been rocked by mass shootings.
The Cubs’ roster is just 25 names long, and yet the two highest-profile of those names, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, have found themselves joining the national conversation about gun violence as their hometowns became some of the latest scenes of these shockingly common tragedies.
Rizzo left Cubs camp after Wednesday’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He attended high school there and left Arizona to be with his community. According to ESPN, among the 17 people killed in the shooting were Rizzo’s former high school football coach and a relative of his agent.
Rizzo joined many online in sharing the opinion that action needs to be taken.
Parkland and Coral Springs please stay strong! This is out of control and and our country is in desperate need for change. I hope In this darkest of times back home this brings everyone together and we can find love. You’re all in my prayers 🙏🏻🙏🏻— Anthony Rizzo (@ARizzo44) February 14, 2018
Rizzo, who is well known in Chicago and around baseball for his charitable efforts — he won last year’s Roberto Clemente Award — surprised no members of his Cubs family by opting to return to his hometown.
“It really speaks to who Anthony really is,” Bryant said Thursday. “Yeah, we’re baseball players and the season’s about to start. But something like that happens in his community, he’s right there with them. Anthony’s just a role model for everybody on the team and in Chicago and the whole country. He’s just such an amazing person that he’s going down there and doing anything he can do to help.”
Bryant had to answer similar questions not five months ago after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history struck his hometown of Las Vegas on Oct. 1 of last year. Bryant and Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper, also a Las Vegas native, appeared together in messages of support as the postseason began and the Cubs and Nationals played against one another in the National League Division Series.
Bryant recalled the emotions he felt at the time, though he didn’t join Rizzo in voicing much of an opinion in his comments to the media Thursday.
“Oct. 1 in Vegas was such a terrible day with so many of my friends and family being involved in that,” Bryant said. “My sister in law was there, just a lot of people I knew. Obviously you wish those things did not happen, but the community coming together after that, being there this offseason and seeing ‘Vegas Strong’ everywhere, it’s made me so proud to be from Las Vegas that everybody in the community came together.
“It’s just been so great to see our community come together, and I know Anthony will have a big influence in that in Florida. But it’s so sad for it to be so new and for it to be just yesterday. I can’t imagine what some of those people are going through.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, however, took more of a stance when asked about the need for gun control legislation.
“Of course, there’s got to be something done about that, there has to be,” Maddon said. “More specifically, I don’t know enough except that it doesn’t make any sense that an automatic rifle has to be in anybody’s hands. I don’t understand that. ... I don’t understand why those kinds of weapons are necessary in our culture in the hands of just anybody. I don’t understand that.”
While the shooting in Florida has become a topic of conversation across all walks of life in this country over the past 24 hours, it’s domination of the discussion at Cubs camp Thursday stemmed from the guy who wasn’t present. It allowed Rizzo’s teammates and manager to paint a picture of the kind of person Rizzo is and the kind of support he’s hoping to bring to his community back in Florida.
“He is the rock on the field, there’s no question about that,” Maddon said. “Of course we’ve got KB and some other really good players, but for the most part Rizzo is kind of like the rock that most everything builds off of.
“And then you take his work off of the field, the fact that he’s a cancer survivor. And his community work, his charity work is staggering to me. The fact that he won the award last year was well deserved. When he won the award, I texted him and said, ‘beyond anything you could’ve accomplished on the field, this is the most impressive thing, to me, that you’ve ever done.’
“He encompasses everything. The other day, he walked in the office smiling, loose, confident, shares his confidence with everybody else. He’s on the verge of becoming a very good leader, and he’s got all the intrinsic qualities to be that kind of a person. I think it was a matter of playing long enough, having enough life experience in order to be that guy. But he wants to be that guy, and he’s on his way.”