Anthony Rizzo doesnt want to hear that this is his team now.
The media and the marketing department havent driven this idea alone. Last winter Theo Epsteins front office told Cubs fans they were getting someone mature beyond his years.
Manager Dale Sveum recognized those qualities as far back as spring training and knew he would become an important piece to the clubhouse puzzle. Veteran utility guy Jeff Baker said so last weekend after he was traded to the Detroit Tigers.
The relaunched version of the Cubs returned to the North Side on Thursday night, with almost 33 percent of the schedule left to find out what theyve got. Dusty Baker who has never known this market to be very patient watched his first-place Cincinnati Reds get beat 5-3.
When Rizzo was on the verge of being promoted from Triple-A Iowa, a team official tried to downplay all the hype and observed: Hes not (bleeping) Babe Ruth. But the Cubs are going to put a lot on his shoulders. Just dont expect any Knute Rockne speeches.
When people say stepping up and being a leader, its not like Im going to get (up) on a stool, Rizzo said. Its just kind of doing it by example. You get those big hits, which are always nice, but its about showing up to the field every day and preparing hard and other guys see that. Players see you running balls out hard and they see you working hard. Thats my definition of being a leader.
Rizzo again found himself in the middle of the action with an RBI single in the first inning. He negated his leadoff double in the fourth when he ran to third base on a groundball to short and got thrown out in a 6-3-5 double play, the kind of aggressive mistake the Cubs (44-66) will live with for now.
Rizzo took out catcher Devin Mesoraco with a hard slide on Starlin Castros game-tying, two-run double off the wall in the sixth inning. He worked an eight-pitch walk against Sean Marshall in the eighth before Alfonso Soriano crushed the game-winning, two-run homer toward the batters eye in center.
Rizzo, who turned 23 on Wednesday, is one of 12 players who werent on the Opening Day roster. Between Kerry Woods retirement and the flurry of deadline deals, the Cubs lost roughly five decades of major-league service time.
Cubs people have long predicted that Brett Jackson will become the most popular dude in Wrigleyville, a guy who loves to play hard and get his uniform dirty and doesnt mind the cameras.
Fair or not, Jacksons strikeouts are going to become a daily watch (nine in 16 plate appearances), and Rizzo knows what that scrutiny is like after hitting .141 with one home run in 49 games with the San Diego Padres last season.
Its tough because everyone has their opinion, Rizzo said. Its unfair to base everything just on results. Bretts a hard worker. He does everything he can. Hes going to get better. If he hits, he hits. If he doesnt, he doesnt. But he brings the same approach to the field every day. Thats the biggest thing.
When the Cubs returned to Petco Park this week, Rizzo stood in the visiting dugout with the San Diego media and refused to make excuses.
The ballpark could have been a T-ball field and I wouldnt have a hit a ball, Rizzo said. I wasnt hitting the fastball, or pretty much anything.
Rizzo kept most of his answers boring and didnt gloat about his numbers (.301 average, nine homers, 24 RBIs in 37 games). When asked to identify the problem, he said: Probably between my ears.
Remember that Cubs executives saw Rizzos monster numbers in the Pacific Coast League and reminded everyone that it was a mistake to rush him last season. They had to wait until he had checked off all the boxes (while pushing back free agency by a year). So its convenient to say now, but there is a roadmap for Jackson to follow this winter.
General manager Jed Hoyer who brought Rizzo to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and got him back in the Andrew Cashner trade recalled an exit meeting at the end of last season.
(Manager) Bud Black (and I) sat down and said: Hey, until you can catch up with a mid-90s fastball and above, youre going to struggle in the big leagues. You need to shorten your swing. You need to level your swing out.
I give him a lot of credit. We had a hard conversation with him and he made those adjustments.
Vindicated is too strong (a word for us). Its six weeks. Hes going to have ups and downs like any young player, but Im really happy for him.
Rizzo has already sidestepped the media blitz in two cities. He keeps his head down and will stand in front of his locker to face questions. He has developed a quiet routine. The Cubs will expect him to be initiating hard conversations and running that clubhouse for years to come.