Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs starts up the line after hitting a single against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
The highly-touted Cubs prospect, acquired from the Padres over the winter, made a successful debut for the Cubs Tuesday night. What's ahead for him and the team?
The Chicago Cubs have had their share of hyped prospects over the last decade that never panned out. Corey Patterson and Felix Pie are the names most seared into the consciousness of Cubs fans among that group. It gives Cubs fans pause whenever another player is built up that highly.
The gallows humor that often surrounds Cubs fans had them joking that Rizzo's recall had him being "demoted to Chicago", given the Cubs' miserable play so far this season.
Rizzo's debut might have been the most anticipated by Cubs fans since the launching of Mark Prior's career ten years ago. Yet at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, the "crowd" waiting in line to get into the Wrigley Field bleachers was underwhelming:
A pleasant evening and the prospect of seeing this hyped prospect eventually brought the sale of 2,300 walk-up tickets, according to the Cubs. The announced house of 34,064 (maybe 30,000 of whom were actually in the seats) gave Rizzo a loud ovation when his name was announced with the rest of the team's lineup (batting third -- no pressure there, right?) and more with his first plate appearance in the first inning.
Rizzo hit a sharp ground ball in the direction of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada; the ball bounced off his glove into short left field. Cubs official scorer Bob Rosenberg immediately called it an error and loud boos resulted. A few seconds later, the letter "H", designating a hit, flashed on the ancient Wrigley Field scoreboard, changing the boos to cheers. A hit for Rizzo's first Cubs at-bat! The Cubs are saved! Hallelujah! He is Rizz'n!
With all the ballyhoo, it must be remembered that Rizzo is not a product of the Cubs organization. Originally drafted by Theo Epstein's Red Sox in the sixth round in 2007, he went to Jed Hoyer's Padres as part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade in December 2010. With Epstein and Hoyer hired to run the Cubs last fall, it was quickly speculated they'd bring Rizzo to Chicago. On January 6, they did so, in exchange for hard-throwing reliever Andrew Cashner... who, ironically, was the last pitcher Rizzo had faced as a San Diego Padre, September 28, 2011 in San Diego. Cashner struck him out swinging.
No such fate awaited Rizzo Tuesday night; after his first-inning single, he later doubled in the lead (and eventual winning) run in the fourth inning and wound up 2-for-4. He also made some slick plays in the field, something the Cubs have missed at first base since the departure of Derrek Lee nearly two years ago.
It's strictly a coincidence, but the date of Rizzo's debut came 52 years to the day after the debut of another young Cubs player who became a franchise icon. Ron Santo's major-league debut was June 26, 1960 in Pittsburgh, when he went 3-for-7 with five RBI in a doubleheader sweep by that year's woeful Cubs over the eventual World Series champion Pirates.
Not only that, Rizzo has been given the uniform number (44) of another Cubs hero from an earlier era, Phil Cavarretta, and is just the third Cubs position player to ever wear that number.
Not too much pressure, right? The Cubs aren't going anywhere this year, and so Rizzo will have the 88 remaining games to play with little fanfare. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer simply hope the 22-year-old first baseman is one of the building blocks of the next Cubs contending team. The national media, in evidence in a crowded press box Tuesday night, should be back around 2015; that's likely to be Rizzo and the Cubs' next possible date with the postseason.