Anthony Rizzo Has Given Cubs Fans Hope
On June 26, 2012, a national holiday in the eyes of Cub fans was born: Rizzo Day. I woke up as happy as ever yesterday morning knowing that the highly touted first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, was going to be debuting in Cub pinstripes just twelve hours later. My phone contained numerous “Happy Rizzo Day” texts and tweets, and ecstatic fans greeted me face-to-face by with that same phrase. Needless to say, it was unquestionably the most memorable day of the 2012 season thus far (and probably will be), and with good reason. The centerpiece of the Cubs’ exciting future finally got the call and was immediately slotted into the third spot in Dale Sveum’s batting order. How did the call come to be, though? Let’s backtrack a bit.
Right around this time last year (earlier part of June), Rizzo was the “most celebrated Padres call-up since Roberto Alomar in 1988” after making Triple A pitching his bitch for 93 games. Mostly everyone knows what took place after that promotion to San Diego. Rizzo struggled mightily against major league pitching, was demoted back to the minors just over a month later and recalled in September for another shot. He ended the season with a combined .141 batting average, one home run, nine RBIs and 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats. However, Jed Hoyer, who had taken Rizzo with him from Boston to San Diego, did not give up on him and, after accepting the job as the Cubs General Manager, traded the flame-throwing Andrew Cashner just to get him to the Northside.
Since then, the 22-year-old Rizzo changed his swing and worked his ass off to gain his confidence back. He did nothing but torch Triple A pitching once again, this time in an Iowa Cubs uniform. Through 70 games with Iowa, Rizzo managed to lead the entire Pacific Coast League in home runs (23), total bases (179), slugging percentage (.696) and OPS (a ridiculous 1.101). He was also third in RBIs (62), sixth in batting average (.342) and ninth in on-base percentage (.405). Unbelievable. Cubs fans, including myself, have been desperately waiting for Rizzo’s arrival to the Friendly Confines all season long, but because this season has been a lost cause since day one, the Cubs front office smartly decided to wait to call him up until there were less than 104 days left in the season, making him eligible for free agency in 2018 instead of 2017. If Rizzo becomes what the Cubs are hoping for, that one extra year will be huge and should save them millions.
That leads us to where we are now. While Rizzo has the ability to become one of the best first basemen in the National League some day, he is not going to single-handedly save the current team we have on the field. Fans expect him to become the cornerstone of this franchise, and rightly so, but it will take some time. Rizzo should make an immediate impact in the middle of an anemic Cubs lineup that has been dying for a legitimate run producer, but it is the future we need to be thrilled about. Throw him into a lineup with Starlin Castro and promising young hitters like Brett Jackson, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Albert Almora and/or the improved Josh Vitters, and the Cubs offense may develop into one of the best in the big leagues a few years from now. The potential for greatness is certainly there; it’s only a matter of time until we see whether or not that potential pans out.
After going 2/4 with a go-ahead two-out RBI double in his debut last night, Rizzo is here to stay. He seemed to love the pressure of playing in Chicago and the expectations that come with it. After beating cancer and experiencing terrible struggles at the plate in San Diego, Rizzo can handle any adversity that stands in the way of his path to stardom. He knows what it will take to get to that level, so all we can do as fans is stay confident and patient and hope that, sometime in the near future, he can help transform this helpless ball club into a consistent playoff contender. For the first time in four years, I am optimistic about our beloved Cubbies and smell signs of good things to come. If and when the baseball gods do bless us with that wish, I will always remember June 26, 2012 as the day that Anthony Rizzo brought promise and excitement to a fan base that needed it most.
Happy Rizzo Day, indeed.