Cubs believe Rizzo will be better for WBC experience

Cubs believe Rizzo will be better for WBC experience
March 14, 2013, 6:30 pm
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GLENDALE, Ariz. - The World Baseball Classic is a flawed, made-for-TV event. There are injury risks, strict pitch counts and watered-down rosters. But it still has its moments. The Cubs believe it will be a valuable experience for Anthony Rizzo.

After a surprising run with Team Italy, the Cubs expect Rizzo to be back at HoHoKam Stadium on Saturday in the place they project him to be for the next decade - hitting third in their lineup and playing first base.

Dale Sveum spoke with Rizzo after Italy was eliminated on Wednesday night in front of some 27,000 fans at Marlins Park. The manager sensed Rizzo's mixed emotions after a 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico.

Sveum encouraged Rizzo, who grew up in South Florida, to decompress and spend some time with his family before flying back to Phoenix on Friday.

There was an intensity Rizzo simply couldn't feel in the Cactus League (or on a 101-loss team). To get an idea of the spotlight, know that more than 100 credential requests have been made to cover Japan's exhibition against the Cubs on Friday in Mesa.

[MORE: Cubs see the payoffs to rebuilding]

This underlined what Sveum told Rizzo over the winter when the 23-year-old emerging clubhouse leader asked for the manager's thoughts about participating in the WBC.

"It's an experience that you just can't replace, whether it's the Olympics or a playoff run (or) the World Series," Sveum said before Thursday's 8-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch. "Those are emotions and excitement that you just wish everybody could have once in their life.

"Because they were such underdogs - and to play so well and be so close - it had to be a big rush every day."

While the Cubs continued with the tedious "Groundhog Day" nature of spring training - Ian Stewart (quad) got five at-bats and homered and singled in a minor-league game; Josh Vitters (quad) made his Cactus League debut; Matt Garza (lat) will throw again Friday - Rizzo already had the adrenaline pumping.

As Sveum said, the Italians were supposed to be two-and-done - until they beat Mexico and Canada last week in Arizona. That will force some Cubs to cough up money for Rizzo's charitable foundation.

This was about much more than numbers. But Rizzo went 4-for-17 (.235) and finished the tournament with five walks and six RBI in five games. His three-run double in the fifth inning gave Italy a 3-0 lead over Puerto Rico - the day after the Italians wasted a four-run lead in a 5-4 loss to the Dominican Republic.

[RELATED: Rizzo, Italy enjoy support of Cubs in Cinderella WBC run]

"He was obviously down about losing," Sveum said, "but he also was very upbeat about the experience (and) the emotions that he probably hasn't been part of yet in pro ball. It was a great experience for him. (But) at the same time, I think he's looking forward to getting back here."

Rizzo doesn't know how to speak Italian and he hasn't visited the homeland yet (his great-grandfather is from Sicily). He got to exchange hats with Joey Votto (Canada) and Ryan Braun (USA) and could face a decision on which team to play for in 2017.

"I didn't know anything about the team going in," Rizzo said the other day during a layover in Mesa before flying to Miami. "(I) just saw these pitchers and (it was) nothing overpowering. (But) they all threw strikes (to give you a chance). And when the pressure's on and you take an early lead in games like this, people tense up real quick. USA has an All-Star lineup that can put up 20 runs on any given night. (But) we had nothing to lose and everything to gain."

The Cubs hope to see the payoff years from now - the calmness under pressure - when Rizzo is playing for them in games that matter.