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At spring training, when I ask Rizzo about what his mother told him the day he found out he had cancer—how he’d be able to help someone else—he says that he thinks about something that has nothing to do with baseball.
He mentions a meeting he had last December with a teacher at his old high school, Stoneman Douglas, in Florida. The event was the inaugural Walk Off for Cancer, a fundraiser for the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. (He had launched the foundation earlier that year to support cancer research, patients, and their families.) Rizzo discovered that a teacher there, Ronit Reoven, was facing the same illness and the same treatment program that Rizzo had undergone.
Rizzo met with Reoven and became something of a cancer coach for her. “He was such an inspiration,” Reoven told me. “My diagnosis was devastating. I had just had a baby. I was asking God, ‘Why me?’ I was bitter.
“And here he was, having been through the same cancer. He helped me get through a lot of the yucky weeks. Just hearing his voice—him telling me, ‘I know, I know what it’s like, but you can get through it.’
“Now here he is, 100 percent healthy. He’s doing his baseball. He’s back on his feet again.”
In the Hollywood version of the Anthony Rizzo story, he stays 100 percent healthy. The crippling fatigue, the odd swelling, the sudden weight gain never return. He fulfills every bit of his tremendous promise. And the walk-off homer he hits is to win the World Series for the longsuffering Cubs and their fans, not a meaningless game for another woebegone team out of the pennant race by midseason.
Even the corniest script wouldn’t include that ending this year—though, of course, nothing is impossible. The Cubs, under Epstein’s guidance, are still stockpiling players, looking for the next star to join Rizzo and the team’s other young phenom, Starlin Castro.
But even if things don’t go exactly according to plan, Rizzo knows now that it’s OK. And that, he says, is the real lesson he learned from his mother, the reason he went through so many struggles. “I had to learn how to make this game fun again,” he says. “And I had to remember that at the end of the day, I’m playing a game.”
Our last interview over, Rizzo picks up his glove and cap and lopes over to where another couple of teammates are running wind sprints in the early-afternoon Arizona sun. Grinning, without a word, he joins in.
He looks like he could run all day.