Anthony Rizzo delivers on the hype, for one game at least
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org June 26, 2012 10:32PM
what’s in the cards?
If Gregg Jefferies had lived up to the hype surrounding his rookie card,he would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The 21-year-old Mets hopeful was ordained a “Future Star” on card No. 233 (a look that inspired today’s back page) in the 1989 Topps set and had collectors buying packs by the box. The card’s value was $3 out of the pack and continued to soar until reality set in as Jefferies failed to hit .300 in three full seasons with the Mets. Card No. 233 will set you back $1 today.
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:36AM
It was exactly like Anthony Rizzo pictured it.
Well, except for getting lost. And no green door.
‘‘My first thought coming here was sliding that green door open like in ‘Rookie of the Year,’ the movie,’’ said the 22-year-old savior-slugger after his successful Cubs debut Tuesday night. ‘‘I didn’t see [the door]. I got lost coming in.’’
But he more than found his way by the time it counted.
The most anticipated Cubs rookie since — well, OK, the list is too long to print — went 2-for-4
with a go-ahead, two-out double in the fourth inning to live up to the hype, for at least one day, in a 5-3 victory over the New York Mets at Wrigley Field.
‘‘It was awesome,’’ said Rizzo, who might as well have been talking for the front office and fan base, as well.
After months of breathless anticipation, the kid with the monster minor-league numbers debuted to throngs of media, pregame embraces from the team’s brass, including chairman/owner Tom Ricketts, and a standing ovation the first time he walked to the plate as the No. 3 hitter.
‘‘I’m here to stay,’’ he said with a big smile before the game.
And people thought Theo Epstein was a savior?
That was before the broad-shouldered Rizzo stepped into the left-handed batter’s box like he owned the place and gave fans a preview of what Epstein and his posse believe is a coming attraction for the better part of the decade.
‘‘It’s pretty exciting,’’ said All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro, who debuted to his own buzz two years ago, ‘‘mostly because he’s a good player. A lot of people look at him because he’s supposed to be a superstar.’’
Castro knows as well as anyone that he’s the yang to Rizzo’s yin in the Cubs’ rebuilding plan.
‘‘Yeah, that’s what I want to be,’’ he said. ‘‘Me and him, the two franchise [players]. … Let’s see what happens. The team’s struggling a little bit now, but it’s going to be good.’’
When? How long will it take? That’s probably up to the next couple of hyped prospects that come up.
But this was clearly the first game of the Epstein-Jed Hoyer Era, which makes the Cubs’ 1-0 after the first day of the rest of the franchise’s life.
As the message board outside Murphy’s Bleachers on Sheffield and Waveland read: ‘‘Welcome Rizzo! The Future Starts … 2Nite.’’
One block down, on the board outside O’Malley’s: ‘‘Hey Rizzo, we just Mets you and this is crazy.’’
No crazier than a kid with barely one failed month in the big leagues making his Cubs debut in the marquee spot in the batting order, with the manager saying he plans to leave him there.
‘‘He didn’t act like much of a kid tonight, that’s for sure,’’ said Sveum, who raved about Rizzo’s general calm and two-strike approach before hitting an off-speed pitch the other way for the double.
Talk about pressure. Right?
‘‘Oh, yeah,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘This is the best. Pressure comes with any sport, and being in such a big market, it’s even better.’’
If he doesn’t understand the century behind the hype, the depth of the desperation of this place, Rizzo at least seems to have the right temperament.
‘‘I was the savior last year, too, and that’s why I think it’s easier this year to come up,’’ said Rizzo, who hit .141 with just one homer in six weeks with San Diego last year. ‘‘Hopefully, this is just a building block of what is here to come in the city and the organization.’’
Sounds good. But, of course, this isn’t San Diego. And the Padres don’t have 104-year-old ghosts to exorcise or the shoes of Hall of Famer Billy Williams to fill as the next big lefty slugger.
‘‘We aren’t going to talk about that,’’ said Williams, who chatted briefly with Rizzo on Tuesday and told him to relax and enjoy himself.
But if Rizzo has the goods to be the next Williams the Cubs have hungered for? ‘‘Hopefully, this could be the kid,’’ Williams said.