MESA, Ariz. -- Anthony Rizzo was 21 years old when he was traded from the Red Sox to the Padres, one of five players involved in the Adrian Gonzalez deal in December 2010. One of Rizzo's new teammates in San Diego was an outfielder, Will Venable, who helped the young first baseman make the transition.
"It was just different," Rizzo said about going from the Red Sox to San Diego. "It was a new organization, and when you go to a new organization, it's hard. Will was one of the guys who was there and a nice guy who understood me. I always liked him for that.
"He was a good guy and helped me," Rizzo said. "I always rooted for Will."
Venable is now the Cubs' first-base and outfield coach, and he is reunited with Rizzo.
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"I got a chance to see a young Rizzo come up and make his debut," said Venable, now 35. "It's great for me now being in this role to have a relationship with him in the past."
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer held that post with the Padres at that time and orchestrated the Rizzo-Gonzalez deal. He also was a main reason the Cubs hired Venable last year as a special assistant.
"[Rizzo] mentioned to me that he really appreciated how Will went out of his way for him," Hoyer said. "That's how Will is -- he sees a young guy come up and he puts his arm around him and helps him. When Anthony saw Will here [with the Cubs] last year, he said, 'That's great, I love that guy. He really helped me out."
Maybe it was Venable's upbringing. His father, Max, played for the Giants, Expos, Reds and Angels. Maybe it's Venable's education -- he went to Princeton. Maybe Will Venable is just a nice guy. Whatever, it was, he recognized that Rizzo was in a unique situation and wanted to help.
In 2011, Venable was sent down to Triple-A to "catch his breath," as he put it. He and Rizzo connected there.
"He was just awesome," Rizzo said. "He wasn't moping or anything. He was excited and just a nice guy. When you're in Triple-A, it was cool to see that."
When Rizzo was called up to the Padres, he had to deal with a lot of hype.
"My impression was the pressure the city [of San Diego] put on Anthony was less about Adrian and more about the fact that we truthfully hadn't had a big-time prospect come up and have the same kind of buzz that there was with Anthony," Venable said. "I don't think it had anything to do with Adrian. The San Diego community loved Adrian, he did a ton for the community and everyone was sad to see him go. I think the pressure on [Rizzo] came from the buzz around his prospect status. It was really unfair, to be honest. It put him in a tough spot."
Rizzo made his Major League debut with the Padres on June 9, 2011. He batted .141 in 49 games in his first pro season.
"This is just me guessing, but that [pressure] on top of the fact that we didn't have a very good team and we didn't have veteran leadership, I think it was an uncomfortable situation for a kid to come up and try to be successful," Venable said. "I know Anthony wishes that stretch in San Diego would've been better for him. I'm happy things worked out for him the way it did. It's all good, and my guess is he's not looking back."
That was Rizzo's only season in San Diego. He was traded in January 2012 to the Cubs in exchange for Andrew Cashner.
Hopefully, all Minor League players can find someone to help ease them into the grind of the big leagues.
"Anyone who comes up, you want to make sure you're professional and respect the game," Venable said. "There's something to be said for a guy who is successful in the Minor Leagues to come up and be comfortable to go about his business the way he did in the Minor Leagues. That's something I wanted to make sure the young guys knew from me, that I supported that."
Now, Rizzo, 28, is a three-time All-Star, a World Series champion, the head of the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, and beginning his eighth big league season. Venable isn't surprised at how far the first baseman has come.
"He's a really good kid and super talented, and the game, I don't want to say was easy for him, but you knew he had the ability to succeed at the big league level," Venable said. "Certainly I'm not a scout by any means, but you knew he'd be special. I just didn't know he'd be this special, to be honest."