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Rizzo, Wright and the weight of being the face of the franchise

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Rizzo, Wright and the weight of being the face of the franchise

Anthony Rizzo was looking forward to Thursdays off-day, the chance to exhale and relax after the 48 hours or so that may have changed his life forever.

If there was anyone at Wrigley Field who understood what Rizzo was going through and what comes next living inside a fishbowl it was New York Mets third baseman David Wright.

Wright watched Rizzos debut in a Cubs uniform on Tuesday night with interest, and came away impressed that he didnt get caught up in the moment.

Hes got a little more hype than me, Wright said Wednesday morning, before driving in five runs during a 17-1 blowout. I dont remember the crowd influencing scoring decisions for me.

Wright was joking about Rizzos first at-bat a ball smashed to short that was initially ruled an error and called it a hit in all fairness. Rizzo went 1-for-4 and on Wednesday and crushed another ball that slammed off the ivy in right-center field for a double.

Its impressive to see a guy stick to a game plan the way he did with all the hype, Wright said. Its easy to kind of get out of your element and try to do too much, but he just (went with) what looked like his strengths.

Wright carried the weight of being the face of the franchise during the Bernie Madoff scandal, and took the high road when Mets owner Fred Wilpon called him a good kid but not a superstar last year in a New Yorker article.

Wright has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and been invited to dinner at the White House. He reportedly made millions years ago by taking an ownership stake in VitaminWater. His image has been all over the back pages in New York.

But at the age of 29, Wright seems to have kept his sanity and reputation intact, and keeps on producing, hitting .357 with eight homers and 47 RBI this season. That will be the challenge for Rizzo.

You try to just be the person that you are, Wright said. I try to understand that my responsibility is (as) a baseball player. I dont want to go out there and try to be a celebrity or be in the tabloids. Im a baseball player, first and foremost.

I get a lot of the perks (and) a chance to do what I love doing because of what I do on the baseball field. And Ive never kind of lost sight of that, especially in a market where its easy to go out and get in trouble and kind of lose focus of what you want to accomplish. Ive been fortunate where I had great parents. I come from a very good family. So I think it was instilled in me at a young age.

By all accounts, thats how Rizzo profiles, and Cubs executives should know, since theyve been with him through three different organizations. Rizzo wont get the Sammy Sosa coverage all season long, but he did media interviews before and after Tuesdays game, and before and after Wednesdays game.

Its part of the gig when youre in a big market and youre highly-touted like that, manager Dale Sveum said. Youre going to have that first day. Thats just the way it is, and obviously he handled it very well.

Hopefully he settles in and plays here 15, 20 years.

The Mets took Wright out of Hickory High School in Virginia with the 38th overall pick in the 2001 draft. Their fans have watched him develop into a five-time All-Star whos won two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers.

Wright made his big-league debut on July 21, 2004, in a ballpark thats been demolished (Shea Stadium), against a team that no longer exists (the Montreal Expos).

This organizations kind of groomed me from early on, Wright said. It was a different situation. When I came up, it was a team full of veterans. With Rizzo, its a very young team. I kind of (got) protected and shielded.

Look over, I had Mike Piazza here and Cliff Floyd here and Mike Cameron (there). It never got to the point where I felt like I had to do too much, because when I got called up, I was hitting seventh. I wasnt put in the three hole. There were different circumstances that allowed me to kind of gradually be moved up into the middle of the order.

Rizzo wont have that luxury, though everyone from team president Theo Epstein to general manager Jed Hoyer to Sveum to teammates think hell be able to handle it all.

Rizzos 22 years old, but acts and sounds much older than that. Even going back to spring training, you could tell that he was a little weary of all the attention and just wanted to go to work.

Wright emerged at a time when Derek Jeter already owned New York. Say what you want about the Yankees shortstop, and you can read about it in the gossip pages, but theres no disputing his priorities.

He goes about his business the right way, Wright said. Hell be the first one to tell you that baseball comes first, and then with winning comes all the accolades, and deservedly so. Hes a Hall of Famer and probably one of the best shortstops to ever play the game. So everything that hes done, hes earned.

New York doesnt want those individual performances. They want winners (and) hes obviously right at the top of that list. (Hes) almost the face of winning.

Its nice to be able to come up through New York when I did, because I got a chance to kind of see Derek from afar and (try to) learn from him, the way he carries himself, the way he approaches the game.

So Wright already likes what he sees from Rizzo, and says hell be rooting for the Cubs first baseman from afar, because of what those types of players stand for. This is a next-generation player who didnt ask for flood-the-zone media coverage, but got it anyway. Whatever youve seen out there, know that Rizzo has already taken back one piece of his personal life.

I did have a Twitter (account), Rizzo said, but I shut that down. Too much for me to handle.

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USA TODAY

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USA TODAY

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