Cancer survivor active in fundraising, visiting children's hospitals
MILWAUKEE -- Whenever Anthony Rizzo meets children battling cancer, the Cubs first baseman is quick to tell them that he once was sidelined by the disease, and that he survived.
Rizzo, diagnosed in April 2008 with Hodgkin's lymphoma, decided when he was hospitalized that he wanted to help children and their families. In 2012, he created the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, and last December, hosted the first "Walk Off for Cancer" in his hometown of Parkland, Fla. The event raised more than $100,000.
In August this year, Rizzo and his foundation staged its first event in Chicago, a "Cook Off for Cancer" featuring local chefs presenting their take on traditional ballpark food. It was a success as the foundation received more than $150,000 in donations.
For all of his enterprising efforts, Rizzo is the Cubs' 2013 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.
Tuesday is Roberto Clemente Day throughout Major League Baseball, a day instituted on the 30th anniversary of the Pirates' outfielder's passing in 1972 to keep alive his spirit of giving. Voting runs from Sept. 17 through Oct. 6 at chevybaseball.com as fans help decide which of those 30 club winners will receive this prestigious recognition. Nominees are chosen based on their dedication to giving back to the community, as well as their outstanding ability on the field.
"It's really an honor," Rizzo said Monday. "It's something that Roberto did his entire career. For him to do what he did and establish his name, it's pretty cool to be associated with that and all the guys who have won over the years."
Rizzo was an easy choice. The first baseman was drafted in 2007 by the Red Sox, and was playing for Class A Greenville when he started to feel unusually tired and had stomach pain. His legs became swollen, and an exam revealed that he had Hodgkin's lymphoma, which was a total shock to Rizzo's family as well as the athletic 18-year-old.
What made it even more difficult at the time was that Anthony's mother, Laurie, was also dealing with her own battle with breast cancer.
Anthony underwent six months of chemotherapy, and felt he had to stay strong to help his family cope. That's the message he gives to the cancer patients he meets in hospitals.
"I always say my parents went through it worse than I did," Rizzo said, "so if I can, I talk to the parents, and say, 'It's harder for you guys than it is for the kid and everything will be OK.' I say the same thing to the kids. I tell them, 'Your parents feel worse than you do.' That's the nature of it. Parents are worried when their kids go to the movies when they're 16 years old. I can't even imagine a sibling being sick."
On Nov. 18, 2008, doctors told Rizzo he could "live a normal life."
"At that point, I knew I wanted to be a role model to help cancer patients and their families," he said.
This December, the Rizzo Foundation will host its second "Walk Off for Cancer" at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Fla., and celebrate the five-year anniversary of Anthony being free of cancer. The event includes a 5K walk, entertainment and refreshments plus a raffle and guest appearances. For more information, go to www.rizzo44.com.
The Cubs acquired Rizzo from the Padres in January 2012 in a four-player trade, and he was promoted to the big leagues in June 2012. In May, he received a seven-year, $41 million contract extension from the Cubs, a perfect Mother's Day gift.
This year is Rizzo's first full season in the big leagues, and he leads the Cubs in home runs and RBIs. It's been a difficult year as the team has struggled, but nothing compares to what he and his family dealt with when they heard the cancer diagnosis in 2008.
Rizzo is a regular visitor at children's hospitals in Chicago, talking to cancer patients about what to expect and trying to inspire them to keep up the fight.
"I've had this game taken away from me, and I don't like to play that sorrow story," Rizzo said of his battle. "Not being able to play the game has made me appreciate it a lot more."
Rizzo will be recognized for his nomination before the Cubs' Sept. 23 game against the Pirates at Wrigley Field. His foundation will be presented a $7,500 grant as a result of his nomination for this award.