How Anthony Rizzo has stepped up behind the scenes for the Cubs
Many Cubs fans have been adamant on social media over the last couple of years to put a captain’s “C” on Anthony Rizzo’s uniform, similar to how hockey and football signify their leaders.
Count Rizzo’s teammates and coaches as huge supporters of that campaign.
When hitting coach Anthony Iapoce joined the Cubs Zoom Room Saturday, he donned a shirt that said “Anthony Rizzo is my captain.”
And over the last couple days, Kyle Hendricks and Javy Báez have brought up Rizzo unprompted in postgame press conferences, giving the Cubs first baseman credit for helping create the incredible environment around the team this season.
“We’ve been getting together more than ever,” Báez said. “Tony’s been a great leader. Obviously we have a couple leaders here. But Tony’s been unbelievable with being around all the teammates, all the young guys and he’s helping me a lot. He’s helping me in slowing everything down at the plate, trying to get a better plan and stick to it.”
Rizzo — who turns 31 Saturday — has been the face of the Cubs franchise for a while, as the first member of this core to arrive on the North Side of Chicago. He endured three losing seasons at Wrigley Field before the 2015 Cubs took the world by storm and won a championship the following season.
This year, he’s emerged as a more vocal leader, sharing his mindset and approach and how he grinds out at-bats.
In spring training in Arizona, the Cubs players got together as a group and went around answering the question of whose plate approach they admire the most.
The answer was Rizzo’s, as he’s been a consistent force at the plate over his career with a unique blend of power and contact ability. While strikeouts have skyrocketed around the game, you’ll see Rizzo taking an old-school approach with 2 strikes, choking up and shortening his swing.
He walks nearly as much as he whiffs and has posted a .389 on-base percentage since the 2013 season.
In the years since that World Series season and David Ross’ retirement, clubhouse leadership has been a big talking point around this Cubs team.
This year, Rizzo has stepped up to take more ownership in that leadership role. He’s spending more time as a veteran presence for his teammates in the dugout and in the clubhouse.
And he’s done it without sacrificing the affable, fun-loving nature that has endeared him to teammates and fans alike over his career.
“He’s the same guy,” Jason Heyward said. “He’s Tony. He’s the face of this franchise, one of the faces of this city in Chicago. For one, he leads by example when it comes to work ethic. Every day, he does his thing and focuses on what he has to do as an individual.
“Even more so now, he’s being a little bit more vocal in areas like having at-bats and approach, just speaking up to make us all aware. He’s not calling anyone out, but just saying, ‘hey guys, this is how I try to approach this.’
“…When it comes to that as a group and gelling as hitters, we’ve all been together now obviously for a few years, so I think that’s an area he’s added on to. But as far as him being himself and keeping things light, that’s Tony being Tony.”
Keeping things light has been more important than ever this summer. There is so much stress and anxiety in trying to play baseball amid the pandemic, avoiding the virus and keeping every player and their family safe during this time.
The Cubs have said they feel like the ballpark is an escape for them, a place where they can go and feel a sense of normalcy.
Rizzo has been a huge reason for that.
When he was out with a back injury in summer camp, he made his teammates laugh by yelling and joking around in the dugout or moving around the Wrigley Field bleachers and creating everybody’s new favorite game “Where’s Rizzo”?
“He’s just got a real infectious personality when he’s in a good head space and doing well,” David Ross said. “He’s always wanted to learn and grow ever since I’ve been around him. It seems like he’s got a really good outlook on this season. He’s got a good outlook on his teammates and having good conversations in some meetings that I sit in on, really giving some veteran input.
“He’s just continued to mature. He’s always interested in everybody having a good time and making sure things are light and fun. His personality and his smile and his energy is really infectious when he’s in that space.”
Rizzo has also impressed newcomer Jason Kipnis, a 10-year MLB veteran who joined the Cubs in February.
“He’s as advertised,” Kipnis said. “I knew him a little bit before this and I had a little inkling coming in of what he’s like as a person and hasn’t disappointed so far.
“I think me and him get along real well. We kind of bounce ideas off each other pretty well and we both like to have a good time. But when it comes time to buckle down in a game, I think both of us will start joking and both of us are talking baseball and a lot of respect toward the game and toward each other. So he’s been great.”