I love watching Anthony Rizzo play baseball.
I don’t catch him often. As a die-hard Mets fan, I don’t seek out Chicago Cubs games as a general practice. In a typical season, I see him in six games, when the Mets head to Wrigley or the Cubbies invade CitiField. At the moment I’m writing this post on my phone, it’s the first of a three-game Mets home series, in which Jacob DeGrom will end up throwing an incredible complete game after two frustrating starts and the Amazins dominate against the struggling World Series champs in a 6-1 win (crowns for DeGrom, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jay Bruce). The last two years happen to have come with bonus playoff views of Rizzo and his teammates.
What I appreciate about Rizzo is his excitement for the game. A team leader and fan favorite, the 27-year-old is always happy to be on the field. He works pitchers when he’s up at bat. He’s a hustler, a throwback to a previous era of ball players. There’s a smile consistently on his face. It’s like growing up in Florida embedded sunshine in his bones.
I have virtually nothing in common with this kid, save for one thing: we’re both blood cancer survivors. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age Rizzo is now. Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodkgin’s lymphoma at just 18.
This has probably made my enjoyment of watching a non-Met a biased one. Finding out that Rizzo was also a cancer survivor — and playing alongside pitcher Jon Lester, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s while pitching for the Boston Red Sox a few years ago — piqued my interest. (In a weird twist of fate, Rizzo was diagnosed while a part of the Red Sox organization; both he and Lester are now with the Cubs.)
He started the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in 2012 to raise money for cancer research and to provide support for children and their families fighting the disease. He’s made appearances at and donated to children’s hospitals. He’s a face of young cancer survivors who never set out to be one – because who the hell would actively want to be such a thing? Nonetheless, he’s an incredible role model for those of us who’ve been dealt a hand few others our age(s) can understand.
I’ve watched a couple of interviews where Rizzo has discussed being a survivor, and both times he was a bit reluctant in his sound bites. He never hides the fact that he’s a survivor, but you can sense frustration towards some of the questions he receives. I get it. Being a cancer survivor is exhausting. It also doesn’t mean we have all the answers for every other survivor or patient currently going through treatment, or for friends and family members of the aforementioned. Just because we talk about cancer a lot doesn’t mean we want to talk about it every day — or in the moment you’re asking about it. Being open does not mean shedding all layers of privacy, does not mean you have a right to ask everything you’re thinking about what it might be like to have cancer without some semblance of a filter.
I don’t pretend to think these feelings are the ones Rizzo has. I’m projecting. But I’m also seeing a tiny piece of myself in a big league ball player, which I never thought could happen.
Simply put, I just like watching him play because he’s good. I also like knowing that this major leaguer plays with a zest for life after coming face-to-face with a life-threatening illness. There’s something incredibly impressive about those who take their survivorship to new heights and, by doing so, give an extra layer of hope, faith, and perseverance to his fellow C Club members, none of whom ever wanted to tote a cancer card.
I hope to meet Rizzo one day. I want to say thank you for being such a positive force for other survivors. Being able to deal with such a double whammy of a public persona is a victory. Showing up to that ball field every day is a victory. Finding a job and passion you love is a victory. Not having to talk about cancer constantly — even if it’s never fully out of your brain space — is the biggest victory of all.
So, thanks, Anthony Rizzo. It’s an honor to watch you play baseball.