At the press conference announcing his new contract, Anthony Rizzo talked about the weight being lifted from his big shoulders, how he felt like he was playing Little League all over again.
But after Monday’s initial wave of excitement, the Cubs first baseman is going to feel the responsibility that comes with potentially earning some $70 million through 2021 and becoming a fixture at the renovated Wrigley Field.
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Here’s the job description: Produce 30 homers and 100 RBI every year. Play Gold Glove defense. Act as the clubhouse spokesman. Smile for the marketing campaigns. Protect your image in the age of Deadspin and camera phones. Oh, and win a World Series for the first time in more than 100 years.
Just ask Troy Tulowitzki what it’s like to be the face of the franchise for the Colorado Rockies.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, well, now I’m at ease, so I can go out there with no worries,’” Tulowitzki said. “That’s not the case for me. I worry every single day, as far as my performance, because I want to be a good player.
“If you have competitiveness inside yourself, you care about your performance a lot more than saying: ‘Hey, well, I’m 0-for-20, but at least I’m rich.’ That’s not the way good players look at things.”
Tulowitzki--who went 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored in Tuesday’s 9-4 win--admitted that he doesn’t know Rizzo well. But the All-Star shortstop with two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers speaks from experience.
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The Rockies first committed to Tulowitzki in January 2008 after only 180 games in the majors and a run to the World Series. That six-year, $31 million contract (plus an option) became part of the structure for a monster extension after the 2010 season, locking him up through 2020 and guaranteeing him almost $160 million.
“The coaching staff, the management like (Rizzo) as a person first and foremost,” Tulowitzki said. “Otherwise, you don’t get those deals early in your career. (So) I’m going to take a guess that he’s a good guy. His work ethic is probably where it needs to be and they see the potential for him to be a run-producer and a middle-of-the-order hitter for a long time.”
Though Rizzo still hasn’t played a full season in the big leagues yet, the move drew almost universal praise for Theo Epstein’s front office. Tulowitzki acknowledged the risk, pointing out how physically demanding a 162-game schedule is for players who are built bigger and stronger than ever.
“There becomes some injury concerns with anybody,” Tulowitzki said. “You’re not going to sign a guy unless he’s playing the game hard. The guys that play hard are sometimes the guys that tend to see some DL time.”
Tulowitzki played in only 47 games last season while dealing with a groin injury. In the afterglow of that first contract in 2008, he spent significant time on the disabled list after tearing a quad muscle and cutting his right hand when he shattered a bat slamming it into the ground.
“It’s tough,” Tulowitzki said. “It took a toll on me mentally at times. Because you hear the fans’ side, you hear the media’s side and you agree with them: ‘Hey, I want to be out there, too, and right now I am maybe a waste.’
“But there’s nothing you can do about it. I come to the field every single day, preparing myself to play every single day and sometimes you just can’t do it.”
If anything, the second-guessing centered around Rizzo leaving money on the table by signing a “club-friendly” deal.
“The thing I always say is this game is way too hard to project yourself,” Tulowitzki said. “(You can’t say): ‘Hey, in three years, if I put up these same numbers, I could have made $100 million,’ or whatever the number might be.
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“If you feel like it’s a good deal at the time, then go ahead and sign it. Because this game’s way too hard to say I’m going to have these numbers every single year.”
Tulowitzki learned by watching veterans such as Matt Holliday and Todd Helton, and Rizzo will benefit by being in a distraction-free clubhouse filled with many low-key personalities. Epstein’s front office has raved about Rizzo’s makeup and maturity since drafting him for the Boston Red Sox six years ago.
But as Lou Piniella might say, there will be “Cubbie occurrences.”
“The market in Denver is a little bit different than Chicago, so he will probably be faced with some problems that I’ve never experienced,” Tulowitzki said. “But you don’t sign a guy that early if you don’t believe in his ability to not only be a good player, but (also) handle the outside media and (be) someone that is going to continue to make good decisions for your organization.”
After all the hype surrounding his promotion from Triple-A Iowa last year, this is the new “Rizzo Watch,” seeing if he grows into being the face of the franchise.