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Rizzo returns, reflects on somber trip home

On meeting with families of victims of Florida high school shooting: 'It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do'
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said it was important for him to go home to Parkland, Fla., to be with family and neighbors after the horrific shooting at his high school last week in which 17 people were killed.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Rizzo said Monday about meeting with families of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. "You don't know what to say, there's nothing you can say. When people get shot, you're grateful they're alive. When they pass away, you're grateful you knew them. Just to see how real it is, it's sad and it's why I'm so proud of what they're doing back in Parkland and how everyone is coming together. They're going to turn this tragedy into something positive."

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said it was important for him to go home to Parkland, Fla., to be with family and neighbors after the horrific shooting at his high school last week in which 17 people were killed.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Rizzo said Monday about meeting with families of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. "You don't know what to say, there's nothing you can say. When people get shot, you're grateful they're alive. When they pass away, you're grateful you knew them. Just to see how real it is, it's sad and it's why I'm so proud of what they're doing back in Parkland and how everyone is coming together. They're going to turn this tragedy into something positive."

Rizzo spoke at a prayer vigil at Pine Trails Park the day after the shooting. It's the same park where he's hosted a charity walk for six years. This was different. Rizzo knew football coach Aaron Feis, who was killed in the shooting. Rizzo's brother John played for Feis. Rizzo's agent also lost a family member in the shooting.

"It's gut-wrenching," Rizzo said about when he first heard the news. "You just go numb. ... There's so many different things going on. One of the teachers who is another hero ... I know very personally and she was in there saving people's lives and tying tourniquets on. You don't know what you're going to do in that situation."

Rizzo has yet to decide how he'll honor the victims. Monday was the Cubs' first full-squad workout day and the first time he could get back to some sort of normalcy.

"My first instinct was just kind of numb," Rizzo said about when he first heard the news. "The more I sat and thought about it, I felt helpless here. That's where I grew up in Parkland. I got in trouble there, I succeeded there, I learned how to be who I am because of Parkland, because of Stoneman Douglas. To be across the country and not be there and to find out some very close people have lost loved ones, to be there to help them and support them was very important to me."

He wanted to speak at the vigil because of that connection.

"Obviously, there needs to be change," Rizzo said. "I don't know what that is. ... You just hope that somewhere up the line of command, people are thinking the same things that a lot of innocent kids are thinking. Why am I scared to go to school? Why am I scared to say goodbye to my son or daughter? God forbid, someone was in an argument with someone they loved that day. It's a bad time right now in the country with what's going on with all these shootings.

"I said there needs to be change -- I don't know what the change needs to be," he said. "I'm just really proud of those kids and how they're coming together and becoming one in Parkland. It's really inspiring to see and it makes me proud."

While he was home, Rizzo met with the families of some of the victims and also went to the local hospital to visit those who were wounded.

"It was weird," he said. "It's such a proud community, such a tight-knit community. To see it happened at the field where I do my charity walk, good times there, and you see in the blink of an eye, everyone is upside down. I'm very proud of the community and what they're doing."

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts expressed his admiration for Rizzo during his camp-opening session with the media on Monday.

"Anthony's character has always been one of the most amazing things I've seen in baseball," Ricketts said. "What he's done for his causes, and what he's done for cancer, and the amount of time he gives to kids and the amount of energy he puts into his own charitable effort is remarkable.

"Obviously, he was the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year in baseball last year as the most community-minded player in the game. Last week, he took it to the next level. It was his high school, he's close to it and he responded like a person with true character. I can't say enough about what a great person he is."

Rizzo got back to work Monday, talking to new infield coach Brian Butterfield and attending a team meeting. He'll try to get back to a normal routine, but he won't forget what happened in Parkland.

"They'll be in my hearts every day, they'll be in my thoughts every day," Rizzo said. "I didn't know most of the kids personally. They'll be in my thoughts and prayers every day. To experience that -- I go to sleep at night and things start spinning through my head. I can't imagine how it is for the people affected.

"It's crazy to see that happen at home. We all think we're invincible to it. It could happen to any one of us."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo