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Fundraiser brings Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo to tears

Anthony Rizzo (left) with Stoneman Douglas High School teacher Ronit Reoven (center) who is facing same illness treatment program Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo (left) with Stoneman Douglas High School teacher Ronit Reoven (center), who is facing the same illness and treatment program Rizzo endured as a minor leaguer. | Mike Berardino~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 9, 2012 8:31PM

PARKLAND, Fla. — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo doesn’t get emotional very often. Sunday was an exception.

Looking out at an overflow crowd that attended his inaugural Walk Off for Cancer, Rizzo choked up a few times as he made the opening address at Pine Trails Park in his South Florida hometown.

‘‘Beating cancer and overcoming everything, it’s all hitting me right now,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘It’s crazy. I’m usually never like this. I don’t know what I’m doing, to be honest.’’

What he was doing was headlining an event that was projected to raise more than $50,000 for cancer research. More than 1,000 entrants turned out for the 5K charity walk, including Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, the former Cubs great now working as a special assistant for the Miami Marlins.

‘‘He’s a gem,’’ Dawson said of Rizzo. ‘‘I like what I see. Now I have someone I can follow a little more closely with the Cubs.’’

Rizzo already has quite a rooting section at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where he set a school record for home runs.

After he addressed a Douglas assembly in October, Ivy Schamis, one of his former teachers, approached Rizzo and told him about a colleague who was facing the same illness and treatment program Rizzo had endured.

Rizzo quickly got in touch with Ronit Reoven, who teaches advanced-placement psychology, and began coaching her through her battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

‘‘Stay strong, girl,’’ he will text-message the 41-year-old mother of two young children. ‘‘You’re stronger than this.’’

On Sunday, Rizzo gave Reoven a signed bat in exchange for a ‘‘Lymphoma Sucks’’ pin he immediately attached to his shirt.

‘‘There is light at the end of the tunnel,’’ said Reoven, who was diagnosed Oct. 15. ‘‘Look at him. He’s playing baseball. He’s healthy. He’s big. He’s strong. That lets you know you can get through this. I’m going to be OK.’’

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