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Cubs' Rizzo humbled to receive Branch Rickey Award

First baseman honored for humanitarian service
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- The more folks made a big deal of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on Friday night, the more humble he became.

Rizzo was in Denver to accept the 23rd Annual Branch Rickey Award for humanitarian service. At 25, he is the youngest recipient. The award, which is a charity function of The Rotary Club of Denver and is presented by AMG National Trust Bank, has been given to six Hall of Famers. With the award came induction into the Rotary's Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame during a banquet at the McNichols Civic Center Building.

DENVER -- The more folks made a big deal of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on Friday night, the more humble he became.

Rizzo was in Denver to accept the 23rd Annual Branch Rickey Award for humanitarian service. At 25, he is the youngest recipient. The award, which is a charity function of The Rotary Club of Denver and is presented by AMG National Trust Bank, has been given to six Hall of Famers. With the award came induction into the Rotary's Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame during a banquet at the McNichols Civic Center Building.

"I just don't understand how," Rizzo said. "I really just try to be myself. Seeing people smile, seeing kids smile, brings you back right away to when I was younger. It's really an honor, especially with all the other people that have been inducted."

Rizzo survived a bout with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer originating in the white blood cells, while in the Minors. His cancer went into remission in 2008, and Rizzo said Friday that last month he was told he's considered cured. Rizzo will return to his hometown Parkland, Fla., on Sunday to host his third annual "Walk Off For Cancer." He's also conducted two "Cook Off For Cancer" events. His events, through the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, have raised more than $500,000 for cancer research and support of children and families affected by the disease. He also is a frequent visitor to children's hospitals, spending time with young patients.

It's Rizzo's first national award, but he credited his family. His older brother, John, who played football at Florida Atlantic, was his inspiration to start the foundation. His parents, John and Laurie (the director of the foundation), are active in picking appropriate projects, and Rizzo makes sure to reach out to affected children personally.

"When you're done playing, you're done playing," Rizzo said. "If a guy is not good and he was a great clubhouse guy, a great teammate, everyone remembers him for that. If a guy was great and he wasn't [liked], nobody really remembers him. He just kind of fades away. You always want to be a good person. That's what my family strives for. We all try to be happy and just go with it, enjoy the moment."

Rizzo said the humility he is calling upon himself to show also applies to the Cubs -- a team that struggled for much of 2014, but displayed an exciting group of hitters toward the end and is looking to add marquee pitching this winter. It's an exciting time with new manager Joe Maddon, who made much with a low payroll with the Rays and now is managing a team with stronger financial resources.

"I would say we all as a unit need to just put our heads down and do what we do, and not read into everything else," Rizzo said. "We're going to get national attention. We already do. But the whole country is going to be behind us when we start doing well, winning, going to the playoffs. We should keep our heads down, and when the time's right we'll lift it up. But at the same time we should enjoy the moment.

"It's tough because we're very young. I'm still very young. We're all learning. So we're going to learn together. We're going to win together. We're going to lose together. We're going to get in trouble together. We're going to have success together. That's the beauty of it. It's all about ultimately what we want to do with it, as a team and as individuals, how much work we really want to put into being something really special."

Rizzo said he has yet to talk to Maddon, whose hiring has made the Cubs a big part of the Hot Stove conversation. Rizzo said he has spoken to friends who have played for Maddon, such as David De Jesus, Eric Hinske and Justin Ruggiano, and hears positives about the "family style" atmosphere.

"We all wish Rick [Renteria] farewell, our former manager -- he was great," Rizzo said. "We're excited to have Joe -- really excited. We have a lot of momentum coming into the offseason, and it just keeps rolling. Hopefully, with a few guys we're going to sign, it just keep continuing and we can build up that aura of winning."

Rizzo, an All-Star Game participant last year after winning the Final Vote campaign, hit .286 with 32 home runs and 78 RBIs in 140 games. He missed time in late August and the first half of September with lower-back pain, but said he was close to healed when he returned for the latter half of September and the back is "100 percent."

The Branch Rickey Award program benefits Denver Kids, which provides educational and mentoring services for more than 1,350 Denver Public Schools students who from high-risk environments.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo