Derek Jeter

Anthony Rizzo keeps building impressive legacy with Roberto Clemente Award

Anthony Rizzo keeps building impressive legacy with Roberto Clemente Award

The same competitive nature and unique leadership qualities that made Anthony Rizzo a World Series champion drove the Cubs first baseman toward winning the Roberto Clemente Award.  

Rizzo does so much publicly with this stage, and quietly behind the scenes, that it felt like a matter of time, a face of the franchise getting Major League Baseball’s prestigious award that recognizes sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions on and off the field.

The formal presentation happened Friday at Minute Maid Park, before a World Series Game 3 between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers that Rizzo would obviously rather be playing in now. But this is a well-deserved honor for someone who is remarkably comfortable around sick children, with sharing his experience as a cancer survivor and the idea of building a legacy in Chicago and South Florida.

“This is amazing,” Rizzo said. “It’s the greatest award you can win, and I will be forever appreciative of this. This will go front and center (with) anything I’ve ever done on the baseball field.”

The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation has raised more than $4 million since its inception in 2012. This year, the foundation made a $3.5 million commitment to Lurie Children’s Hospital, the downtown Chicago facility where Rizzo makes regular appearances, with or without the cameras.

Rizzo also recently granted $250,000 to the University of Miami Health System and the hometown cancer center where he received treatment while battling Hodgkin's lymphoma. Those physical, mental and emotional tests as a Boston Red Sox prospect shaped the superstar he would become years later in Chicago.  

“It means a lot to me when I go into a hospital room and say hello to a kid and they light up like a Christmas tree for five minutes,” Rizzo said, “escaping the reality, because they’re going through treatment. They’re battling for their lives, and I’m just grateful to be able to go in there and say hello to them and make them escape reality for a second.

“It’s not easy to go and see a lot of kids, but we really enjoy it. And the work that we do, hopefully we’re just scratching the surface.”

Clemente, a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, died on New Year's Eve 1972 during a relief mission to earthquake-damaged Nicaragua, when a plane delivering relief supplies exploded shortly after takeoff and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Rizzo made a side trip to The Clemente Museum while the Cubs played in Pittsburgh this season. Previous Clemente Award winners within the last 10 years include Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Beltran, Paul Konerko and Curtis Granderson.

“Don't get me wrong, I want to be known as a great baseball player when it's all said and done,” Rizzo said, “but I also want to be known as someone who was fortunate to have a big platform and do things with it in a good way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Revisiting the whole idea of the Cubs as a dynasty

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AP

Cubs Talk Podcast: Revisiting the whole idea of the Cubs as a dynasty

Cubs coach Mike Borzello joins the Cubs Talk Podcast with Patrick Mooney, providing a fresh perspective on the Cubs as a “dynasty” given Borzello was a staffer on the New York Yankees in the late ‘90s as they won four World Series from 1996-2000. Borzello also compares Kris Bryant to Derek Jeter and takes a big-picture view on the 2017 Cubs season.

Elsewhere, Jeff Nelson, Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki sum up the first half and answer the burning questions ahead of the season’s second half, including what has to happen for the Cubs to shift gears completely and turn into a seller at the trade deadline.

Plus, how much of the Cubs’ first-half struggles can be attributed to just poor luck?

Check out the entire podcast here:

All-Star or not, Cubs expect Kris Bryant to be their Derek Jeter in second-half push to October and beyond

All-Star or not, Cubs expect Kris Bryant to be their Derek Jeter in second-half push to October and beyond

Derek Jeter is the headliner trying to corral enough heavy hitters to close a billion-dollar deal for the Miami Marlins, the sale of a dysfunctional franchise hanging over the All-Star Game this week in South Florida.

Kris Bryant is the National League’s reigning MVP, not invited to Major League Baseball’s showcase event, an awkward symbol for an underachieving Cubs team that won’t have a single player from last year’s World Series winner there on Tuesday night at Marlins Park.

But the glass-half-full look at the rest of this season begins with Bryant, whose relative downturn includes 18 homers, a .928 OPS that’s only 11 points from where he finished his MVP campaign and a WAR rating that still makes him a top-15 player in the NL.

Bryant also possesses the inner drive, natural calm and sense of responsibility that draws comparisons to Jeter, a player he publicly patterned himself after while being anointed as the franchise savior, trying to deflect credit and attention and defuse controversy.

“I think there’s a lot of similarities there between KB and Derek,” catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello said on this week’s Cubs Talk Podcast, remembering his time as a Yankee staffer on championship teams in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. “Derek’s focus, No. 1, was on the score. You never really heard about any personal achievements with him.

“It was about coming here to beat the other team, day in and day out, whether it be with a great play or a bunt or a smart base-running play. He was always looking for some way to change the game in a positive manner for our team.

“That’s the mark of a winner. They have to find some part of their game that’s going to effect the score in a positive way, whether it is defense or base running. Obviously, when (KB’s) swinging the bat, he’s a game-changer. But when those guys aren’t swinging the bat as well as they want, or getting the hits, they find a way to still effect the game and help the team win.

“I see KB that way. When KB’s hot, he’s hot, great. But what about when you’re not? And how does that affect you mentally? You watch Kris and he may be the best base runner on our team and his decision-making is always on point.”

Jeter is a far more complicated figure behind the scenes, but his brand became synonymous with winning, a baseball shorthand for how to handle yourself in the media spotlight, in the corporate world and in October.    

For Joe Maddon, it starts with the manager’s only rule about running hard to first base. As much as anyone, Bryant represents an idealized version of The Cubs Way, one of their best hopes that this 43-45 start is a fixable glitch and not a system-wide breakdown of a one-and-done team.     

“It’s hard to throw him out on a routine groundball,” Maddon said. “How about his effort to first base? I mean, he’s a Rookie of the Year, MVP, (25 years old). Um, I don’t want to say he doesn’t have to do that. But he doesn’t have to do that.

“He does it, every day, and he sets a wonderful example for this entire organization. Not just this club. I’m talking like everybody in A-ball, Double-A, Triple-A. When they tune in the game and they see KB turning a routine groundball to shortstop into a bang-bang play, what does that mean?

“So when you go to spring training or guys come up and you talk about ‘Respecting 90,’ here’s the poster child right here, man. He does it as well as anybody. I always thought that about Derek Jeter. I see (Mike) Trout do that a lot. I’ve seen Jeter in the past hurt – bad foot, bad ankle – do that. And then he’d limp out to shortstop. The real guys do that kind of stuff and he sets a great example.”

Bryant obviously has years and years to go before coming anywhere close to matching Jeter’s five World Series rings, 3,465 hits, 14 All-Star selections and no-doubt Hall of Fame credentials. But Bryant already understands his role as an ambassador, saying “yes” over and over again to media requests and signing autographs in a mostly empty complex around 5 p.m. on the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Arizona.

“What you’re talking about is franchise players have instincts,” super-agent Scott Boras said. “There are few of them. And certainly it’s not something Kris tries to do. It’s something that Kris instinctively knows to do.”

Where Jeter dated models and actresses and enjoyed the New York nightlife, Bryant married his girlfriend from high school and likes to order in food and watch Netflix at home. Where this season already dented Kyle Schwarber’s legendary status and Addison Russell’s off-the-field reputation, Bryant is hitting .213 with runners in scoring position.

Bryant’s ability to ride the waves without crashing is exactly what the Cubs need now if they are going to make up those 5.5 games, catch the Milwaukee Brewers and chase that kind of Yankee dynasty.   

“I just feel very determined,” Bryant said. “When things aren’t going my way, there’s just a switch in me that makes me want it even more. And sometimes when you want it even more, you end up going the opposite way, so it’s a fine line there.

“But it’s just a matter of showing up and competing. You are the player who you are and things usually work out in the end. I think that goes for everybody in this clubhouse.”