Watching an intrasquad game from the Wrigley Field bleachers, offering sanitizing liquid to an opposing player, wearing a pair of gold chains — it’s all part of a theme for playful Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
“I’m not going to shy away from this,” Rizzo said Thursday of his rare blend of having fun and taking each game seriously. “This could be (our) last year together. We all know that, especially with the state of the game and who knows what’s going to happen.
“This could be our last run with all our guys. This could be my last year. Who knows?”
Rizzo’s teammates and other Cubs observers have admired his assertiveness, which has been magnified during this 60-game season with no fans in the stands. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic could affect the future of several core players — especially Rizzo.
“He’s a big teddy bear,” manager David Ross said before Thursday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. “He’s one of the best competitors I’ve been around. He’s got that love and infectious personality. He wants everybody to have a good time. He’s really embraced this environment and the team concept, which I’ve always seen.
“He knows how to have a good time and knows how to play the game with passion and focus, which is a unique skill set and I know how hard it is. Even when he doesn’t have a good at-bat, or gave away an at-bat, he’s mad for a second and turns back around and starts cheering for the guy behind him.”
Ross, a major-league catcher for 15 seasons with seven teams, recalled former teammates such as Brian McCann, Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia who were able to balance a laugh with pushing teammates.
“But to be a superstar and be able to do that is hard,” Ross said. “Especially as long as (Rizzo has) been here and seen players go over the years. He continues to invest in the new guys, the Jason Kipnises, the Steven Souzas and young guys. To invest in their careers and relationships is as powerful a gift as his performance can be some nights.”
After publicly raising the question of his future — as well as that of teammates Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras — before the Cubs Convention in January, Rizzo has invested his energies exclusively into winning and keeping his teammates engaged. The Cubs hold a $16.5 million option on Rizzo’s contract for 2021.
Rizzo said he planned to keep wearing the two gold chains he sported Wednesday night, when he homered in a 7-2 victory in Cleveland.
“The gold chains are getting charged up right now,” Rizzo quipped, adding that he “just got the feeling” to wear them during an intrasquad game Sunday.
The assertiveness stemmed from last season, when Rizzo conducted separate conversations with the front office and former manager Joe Maddon.
Ross and Rizzo are represented by the same agency and knew each other well before Ross joined the Cubs as a player in 2015. So Rizzo, 31, was eager to help Ross in his reinvestment in the Cubs as a manager.
“Good game or bad game, this season is about one thing only — winning,” Rizzo said. “That’s what I keep trying to (provide) every day, that winning attitude, whether it’s going 0-for-5 or getting a couple hits and a homer, popping gold chains. It doesn’t matter.
“I want to be the same guy every day for the guys in the clubhouse to show this is just about winning. If you have a good game or bad game, today is the biggest day.”
Rizzo said he always has considered himself a leader and is merely in the midst of a transition period after former teammates such as Ross, John Lackey, Dexter Fowler, Travis Wood and Miguel Montero stood out four years ago.
The transition from that group, which included occasional tough love from Lackey and Montero, now features a softer manner of delivering messages.
“It’s just being mindful and knowing you’re not running from being the leader and the ‘face of the franchise’ or however you want to say it,” Rizzo said. “It’s embracing it and making sure everyone is OK in all aspects.
“My first couple years, it was more that’s how you’d be called out,” added Rizzo, who had a disagreement with Lackey in the dugout in 2017. “And you’d just learn more and more, that’s not the way to do it as much. Guys will crawl into a hole more and lose your trust.”
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