Anthony Rizzo delivers on the hype, for one game at least
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Sun-Times Media June 26, 2012 11:14PM
Chicago Cubs batter Anthony Rizzo laces an RBI double in the fourth inning as the Chicago Cubs take on the New York Mets on June 26, 2012 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
what’s in the cards?
If Gregg Jefferies had lived up to the hype surrounding his rookie card he would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The 21-year-old New York Mets hopeful was ordained a “Future Star” on card number 233 in the 1989 Topps set and had collectors buying packs by the box. The card’s value was $3 straight out of the pack and continued to soar until reality set in as Jefferies failed to hit .300 in three full seasons with the Mets. Card number 233 will set you back $1 today.
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:47AM
CHICAGO — Where has Anthony Rizzo been all the Cubs’ lives?
After weeks — months? — of breathless anticipation, the kid slugger with the monster numbers in the minor leagues made his Wrigley Field debut Tuesday. The No. 3 hitter in the Cubs’ new order was greeted by an interview-room throng of media, pregame embraces from front office officials and chairman/owner Tom Ricketts and a standing ovation before his first at-bat in front of the packed house.
‘‘I’m here to stay,’’ he said with a big smile a few hours before delivering a two-hit game that included a two-out RBI double to left in the fourth inning for the go-ahead run — the eventual game-winner — in the Cubs’ 5-3 victory over the Mets.
And people thought Theo Epstein was a savior?
That was before the broad-shouldered, 6-3 Rizzo stepped into the left-handed batter’s box like he owned the place and gave fans a preview of what Epstein and his posse believe is a coming attraction for the better part of the decade.
‘‘It’s pretty exciting,’’ said shortstop Starlin Castro, the 2011 All-Star who debuted to his own buzz — less intense — two years ago, ‘‘mostly because he’s a good player, a lot of people look at him because he’s supposed to be a superstar.’’
Castro knows as well as anyone that he’s the yang to Rizzo’s yin in this Cubs’ rebuilding plan, the other 22-year-old, middle-of-the-order building block.
‘‘Yeah, that’s what I want to be,’’ he said, ‘‘me and him, the two franchise [players]. … Let’s see what happens. The team’s struggling a little bit now, but it’s going to be good.’’
When? How long will it take? That could be up to the pitching staff and the next big hitter or two to come from the system.
But there’s no doubt that the first game of the Epstein-Jed Hoyer Era was Tuesday.
As the message board outside Murphy’s Bleachers on Sheffield and Waveland read: ‘‘Welcome Rizzo! The Future Starts @ 7:05 2Nite.’’
One block down, on the board outside O’Malley’s: ‘‘Hey Rizzo, we just Mets you and this is crazy.’’
No crazier than a 22-year-old rookie with barely one failed month in the big leagues making his Cubs debut in the marquee spot in the batting order, with the manager saying he plans to leave him there.
‘‘You want to keep certain guys in certain spots, and if that’s what we project as our future, then no better time than getting it started now,’’ manager Dale Sveum said.
Talk about pressure. Right?
‘‘Oh, yeah,’’ Rizzo said with another big smile. ‘‘This is the best. Pressure comes with any sport, and being in such a big market, it’s even better.’’
If he doesn’t understand the heat of the hype and the depth of the desperation of this place, Rizzo at least seems to have the right temperament for it.
‘‘I was the savior last year, too, and that’s why I think it’s easier this year to come up,’’ said Rizzo, who hit .141 with just one homer in 44 days in the big leagues with San Diego last year. ‘‘Hopefully, this is just a building block of what is here to come in the city and the organization.’’
Sounds good. But, of course, this isn’t San Diego.
New York Mets manager Terry Collins has managed in both Los Angeles (with the Angels) and New York, and he recognized the difference with this kid in this place.
Collins mentioned the hype surrounding future All-Star slugger Troy Glaus in the 1990s, exacerbated by the fact he was a hometown boy in southern California.
But the Glaus hype was nothing. ‘‘Not like this guy,’’ Collins said. ‘‘He didn’t have the hoopla this guy did. Troy turned out to be a great player, and this kid will, too.’’
Glaus was never asked to be the next Billy Williams, the left-handed slugger the Cubs have not had in more than a generation.
‘‘I’m not going to go there,’’ said Williams, who chatted briefly with Rizzo on Tuesday and told him to relax and enjoy himself.
But if Rizzo is what he looks like?
‘‘Hopefully, this could be the kid.’’