For all the talk of what the future holds for Cubs starter Jon Lester, it wasn’t surprising to hear Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo speak highly of the left-hander on Friday.
But it was interesting to hear Rizzo say who Lester stands with among those who have had a big impact on his baseball career.
“Right next to Starlin Castro, Jon Lester is the most important baseball player in my life, for my career,” Rizzo said Friday.
Up until he was traded to the Yankees in the 2015-16 offseason, Castro was the longest-tenured Cub. He came up with the team in May 2010 and was there from the moment Rizzo made his team debut in June 2012.
“Starlin taught me how to be an everyday player,” Rizzo said. “Whether he was tweaked or hurt, or didn’t feel 100 percent, he went out there every single day and played.”
Castro missed just one game from 2012-13 and often played through minor ailments. And we all remember Rizzo’s quick return from a nasty ankle sprain last season.
Rizzo joined Castro as the faces of the Cubs during their rebuild, and the two were connected through good and bad. They helped the Cubs return to the postseason in 2015, snapping a six-season drought.
Only two years prior, manager Dale Sveum raised the possibility of the Cubs demoting the duo three weeks into the 2013 season, during a road trip in Milwaukee — at a time the front office was negotiating a long-term deal with Rizzo.
“From the time we were going to get optioned in Milwaukee that one year to just the good times, he was always right next to me, good and bad,” Rizzo said. “Bad times, ‘Hey, keep your head up. You’re good.’ Good times, we would be rolling together.”
Although the Cubs dealt Castro the offseason before their championship season, Rizzo paid homage to him, switching to Castro’s walk-up music in 2016.
“Starlin was one of those guys here that I just watched every single day,” Rizzo said. “It was a bond we had that was special to me.”