“I’m here to stay.” Those words from the main reason to watch this Cubs team brought a sign of hope for the most tortured franchise in sports. Any Cubs fan knows of Anthony Rizzo’s athletic ability and hyped up skills, but the most impressive thing about his Cubs debut was his understated confidence & laser like focus. Rizzo talked about being nervous and taking deep breaths before his first game in front of the magnified drama house that is Wrigley Field, but once he stepped in the box, he let his talent take over in the Cubs 5-3 over the Mets.
Two hits in four at-bats (albeit by generous scorekeeper, Bob Rosenberg) included heads up base running on the go-ahead double & slick fielding at 1st caught the eyes of a drooling fan base desperate for a young and gifted left handed hitter. But Rizzo’s ability to handle the Wrigleyville silliness stood out. He knows the pressure that’s on his shoulders as the next big thing and new favorite son at Clark & Addison, but he shrugged it off like a true pro & displayed a demeanor that is rarely seen by Cubs prospects.
“He didn’t act like much of a kid today, that’s for sure,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “You can’t teach no-panic.”
How many times have we seen Cubs “phenoms” & “saviors” like Ty Griffin, Luis Montanez, Ryan Harvey, Corey Patterson, Hee-seop Choi & Mark Prior get Cubbed, injured, let the pressure get to them or just plain suck at baseball? It’s happened far too often, but those jaded feelings are why fans should simply enjoy the possibilities and savor the moment with Rizzo.
It’s entirely possible that he’ll hit around the .141 in 128 at-bats that he did in his major league stint with the Padres last year. I don’t pretend to know enough about evaluating baseball prospects to form a definitive opinion without a large sample size. What I do know, is that I’m trusting Theo Epstein & Jed Hoyer. They drafted Rizzo, and Hoyer has now traded for him twice. If they believe in the 22 year-old, why wouldn’t any rational fan at this point?
You can’t teach confidence, an ability to not get engulfed by the Wrigley garbage & oozing “no panic.” You also can’t fake self belief and assurance that Rizzo (who had a .342 batting average with 23 home runs and 62 runs batted in over 70 games) possesses…
“Oh yeah. This is the best,” Rizzo said. “Pressure comes with any sport, and being in such a big market, it’s even better. You have to perform and that’s what it’s all about. But in order to perform, you have to prepare every day like it could be your last day — which it could be any day. Pressure just comes with it.”
We’ve seen prospects come and go only to become part of the shit show that has been Cubs baseball. But the early signs of Rizzo’s ability (I’m a fan of his Eric Davis-ish batting stance) are overshadowed by his non Cubs like mentality. Despite the colossal pressure heaped upon him, Rizzo won’t let it hinder his game and seems to embrace it all. And for a team that’s desperate for players that matter, #44 is the most important story line of the season. Let’s just hope that Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, Javier Baez, Junior Lake, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler & whoever the Cubs get for Garza and/or Dempster all show a calmness and focus like Rizzo has when they arrive at the Wrigley Field circus.