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Cubs prospect Anthony Rizzo is already being hypecast

Will suffocating atmosphere Wrigley Field adversely affect Anthony Rizzo’s development? | Getty Images

Will the suffocating atmosphere at Wrigley Field adversely affect Anthony Rizzo’s development? | Getty Images

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Updated: July 23, 2012 7:40AM

Here’s what I worry about when I think about Anthony Rizzo: You.

When I say “you,’’ I mean “Cubs fans who have a tendency to smother any new, shiny thing that moves.” And by that, I mean “Cubs fans.’’

Rizzo most surely is a new, shiny thing, one of the newest, shiniest things since Kosuke Fukudome. You might remember Fukudome. He was the next Ichiro Suzuki until it became apparent he was the next Corey Patterson.

The Cubs are expected to call up Rizzo from Class AAA Iowa soon, perhaps for Monday’s game against the Mets at Wrigley Field. I don’t know what’s going to happen when Rizzo actually puts on a Cubs uniform, but judging by the hype, I think it’s reasonable to expect that the blind will request 3D glasses and the deaf will be tapping their toes to the Black Keys.

Two things:

† Let this guy breathe.

† I know you won’t.

I’m not trying to dim your enthusiasm. I’m trying to be a realist. I’m anticipating what has happened to lots of players as they’ve tried to handle outside, outsized expectations on the North Side. The suffocating atmosphere at Wrigley could adversely affect Rizzo’s oxygen intake.

You Cubs fans see that the big-league club is dreadful. You would appreciate any ray of sunshine. So here comes Rizzo, who was hitting .360 with 23 home runs and 59 RBI heading into Iowa’s game Wednesday night.

I recently tweeted (@MorrisseyCST) that the likely scenario for Rizzo’s career goes like this: He hits .250, the Cubs retire his number and Pat Hughes finds himself with a new broadcast partner.

You think I’m exaggerating? All I know is that within about a week of Fukudome’s arrival from Japan in 2008, Cubs fans were wearing T-shirts with his name on them and treating him like a 10-time All-Star. You can find Fukudome and his lifetime .258 average on a rehab assignment in Charlotte for the White Sox, his career just about over. He didn’t live up to the buildup. Few do. Felix Pie got the same treatment. So did Patterson. Go down the list. Only Starlin Castro has lived up to the hype.

By most accounts, Rizzo is a very good player. But a sure thing? Nobody is. When the Padres brought him up to the majors last year, he hit .141 in 49 games.

Would you allow me to generalize some more, Cubs fans? Your problem is you love too much and too quickly. You project all your hopes on a 22-year-old first baseman who, not so long ago, was beating around the minors in a bus. That neediness comes from a century or so of broken dreams. I get it.

But imagine trying to work in that environment.

“If you let it smother you,’’ it can be smothering, Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija said Wednesday. “You just have to take the mental approach that it’s really no different than what you’ve been doing already for years. A few more people watching, but that makes it more exciting when you hit home runs.

“Everybody knows if you play well, everything’s going to be nice and easy. If you don’t, you’re going to hear it. Once he gets over the fact that that’s the case, he should be fine. He seems like a very calm, coolheaded guy. He’s very mature.’’

Fans want some immediate proof that Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, is the genius they think he is. If Rizzo has Epstein’s stamp of approval, the kid must be good, right? That’s how the thought process goes.

Rizzo won’t be the first minor-leaguer to be confronted with others’ huge expectations. Gordon Beckham walked into a similarly thick wall of pressure when the White Sox called him up in 2009 after only 59 games in the minors.

“The team he’ll be joining isn’t in the race,’’ Beckham said. “I think there’s a lot to be said about coming up and being able to work your way in. Obviously, people want him to produce. At the same time, he’s got some time before they’re competitive. He’ll have some time to go up and learn on the job. Expectations are what you make them.’’

There’s no flying under the radar on the North Side.

“He’s just got to go play and get lost in the game,’’ Beckham said. “If he does that and doesn’t read the paper, he’ll be OK.’’

Getting a blanket restraining order wouldn’t hurt.

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