Anthony Rizzo pumped up to play for Italy, make name with Cubs


Anthony Rizzo pumped up to play for Italy, make name with Cubs

This time last year, even the Cubs executives who knew Anthony Rizzo better than anyone else couldn't be certain that they were getting a core player for the next decade.

Rizzo doesn't have to worry about getting traded anytime soon. He won't be going to spring training to try to win a job. Who knows what the Cubs would do without him now? He's supposed to be a leader in the clubhouse, but will leave camp because he felt he couldn't pass up this chance.

Rizzo - whose great-grandfather is from Sicily - spoke with the front office and manager Dale Sveum and got their blessing to play for Italy in the World Baseball Classic.

"They're fully supportive," Rizzo said Wednesday. "People say: 'Oh, the risk factor of getting injured.' But it's just like spring training. I play every game as hard as I can, so it's not different from that standpoint. Obviously, I would love to play for USA. That was my first choice, but they got all the 'monsters.'

"Italy's a great opportunity. I come from a very strong Italian background and to represent (the) whole country is a pretty cool experience."

Rizzo said his teammates will include Jason Grilli, Nick Punto and Chris Denorfia. He's also looking forward to working with Mike Piazza, Italy's hitting coach. Provisional rosters for the World Baseball Classic will be unveiled on Thursday.

The Cubs see a major difference between a position player participating in the event and a pitcher being thrown into a competitive situation that early in camp. Rizzo also felt better about his decision knowing that Italy will play its games - versus Mexico, Canada and Team USA (March 7-9) - in the Phoenix area, not far from the Cubs complex.

"It certainly is something he's taken pride in and we support the WBC as a whole," team president Theo Epstein said. "Now if he pulls a miracle and is gone all month, that might be another story.

"I have a lot of faith in him, but they have a tough group."

Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scoutingplayer development chief Jason McLeod have a lot invested in their first baseman, the prospect they once drafted for the Boston Red Sox and packaged in the Adrian Gonzalez deal with the San Diego Padres.

Rizzo has accepted the responsibilities that come with being a leader. He has been patient with the media and stuck to the talking points. He didn't let the big-market hype overwhelm him. But he doesn't want to see himself as the face of the franchise.

"I don't look at it like that," Rizzo said. "I have to go out there and produce, and it's got to be that tunnel vision mentality until I actually really do make a name for myself.

"I've done a little bit, but Alfonso Soriano's made a name. He's done it every single year. The superstars in the game have done it. I'm just coming up and I want to continue to work hard every day, (be) myself and just let it go from there."

The Cubs are eager to measure The Rizzo Effect - how his 15 homers and 48 RBI in 87 games last year will translate across an entire season. He wants to win a Gold Glove playing alongside second baseman Darwin Barney and shortstop Starlin Castro. It will be a little easier going into spring training knowing that he won't have to look over his shoulder, but he's vowed to keep the same mentality.

"I still want to go in and prove that I can be elite," Rizzo said.

Cubs announce lineup for Game 1 of the World Series...and yes Kyle Schwarber is in it

Cubs announce lineup for Game 1 of the World Series...and yes Kyle Schwarber is in it

CLEVELAND - Kyle Schwarber is in the Cubs starting lineup for the first time since April 7.

It just so happens to also be the Cubs' first World Series starting lineup since 1945.

The Cubs released Joe Maddon's Game 1 lineup against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians Tuesday afternoon ahead of a historic World Series matchup.

Schwarber is hitting fifth at DH:

1. Dexter Fowler - CF
2. Kris Bryant - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Ben Zobrist - LF
5. Kyle Schwarber - DH
6. Javy Baez - 2B
7. Chris Coghlan - RF
8. Addison Russell - SS
9. David Ross - C

And Jon Lester is on the mound.

Schwarber is already the Cubs' all-time leader in postseason homers with five longballs in last season's playoff run.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Coghlan in the lineup is also a surprise as defensive stalwart Jason Heyward gets the boot to the bench for the second straight game.

The Cubs put Albert Almora Jr. in right field at Wrigley Saturady night when they beat Clayton Kershaw and locked up the NLCs.

Heyward is hitting .071 with a .312 OPS in the postseason, collecting only two hits and a walk in 10 games.

Coghlan has appeared in five games - all as a pinch-hitter - and is 0-for-4 with a walk and a run. 

The Cubs have scored 23 runs in the last three games after being shut out in 21 straight innings prior to that.

Cubs' Javy Baez, Indians' Francisco Lindor cross paths again, this time at World Series

Cubs' Javy Baez, Indians' Francisco Lindor cross paths again, this time at World Series

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor and Javy Baez have always traveled a similar path, from Puerto Rico to Florida to being selected one pick apart in the 2011 amateur draft.

The young star infielders will take another monumental step together on Tuesday night when they square off in the World Series.

Baez has been a breakout star this season for the Cubs, who return to the Fall Classic on Tuesday night after a 71-year absence against Lindor and the Cleveland Indians. 

A first-time All-Star in 2016 and runner-up for the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year award, Lindor said he and Baez, whose families once celebrated Thanksgiving together, reflected upon the significance of the moment over the weekend.

“He texted me after he won and said, ‘Hey man, is this a dream?’” Lindor said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I think it is because I haven’t woke up yet.’ I’m excited.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Baez and Lindor, the Indians’ shortstop for the past two seasons, grew up 20 miles apart in Puerto Rico and knew of each other. Both moved to Florida — about 160 miles apart — where their paths crossed again in high school and travel baseball games. Their proximity to one another got even closer when in 2011 the Indians selected Lindor with the eighth overall pick of the draft and the Cubs grabbed Baez with the ninth pick.

Lindor said Monday that their two families celebrated Thanksgiving together about a year after that with Baez’s family hosting the event. There was food and ping pong — Lindor said each player won a few games — and a good time was had by all.

“It was cool,” Lindor said. “His family made food and my mom brought something over and we just chilled. We ate, we had fun --- it was cool man. It was fun. That’s what kids do.”

Now those same youngsters are set to oppose each other in baseball’s most prestigious event. Not only that, both men’s franchises are attempting to snap lengthy World Series droughts and Baez and Lindor, who each have played starring roles this October, could potentially play big roles in their teams’ fortunes. Lindor said he can’t wait to get to shortstop and engage in some friendly banter with his longtime friend.

“Just like regular athletes we’re very competitive,” Lindor said. “We’re going to enjoy the game. But at the same time he likes to enjoy the game and that’s how I am too. You’ll see us whenever he’s at second base and I’m in the dugout -- you’ll see us saying stuff to each other and throughout the game. It’s fun. I’m really excited and can’t wait to go out there and play against him.

“I’m happy for him, happy for his family because he deserves it. All the things he has done, I’m super happy for him. I can’t wait to go out there and have fun. I just want to see him and give him a hug and say congrats.”