Rizzo keeps game in perspective after shooting at Florida alma mater
Anthony Rizzo still wants the Chicago Cubs to win more than ever, but he no longer sees the games as a matter of life and death.
For Rizzo, such clarity and understanding have come about as the result of a harsh and unbearable lesson. On Feb. 14, a gunman walked opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, his alma mater in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and teachers and injuring others.
In the aftermath, the 28-year-old Rizzo headed back Parkland, where he met and talked with as many students as he could, including some of the shooting victims.
“What he just did, he’ll never be the same,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the Chicago Tribune after his star first baseman delivered a heartfelt speech at a school vigil. “I mean, the maturity level — what he just did, a lot of us can’t do that.”
Rizzo’s ultimate plan calls for much more. He and his foundation have already been raising money for families of victims, with Rizzo collecting signed artifacts from his teammates and other players to auction off.
With the start of the regular season so close, it’s a delicate balance for Rizzo, but one most everyone seems convinced he can handle.
“You’re talking about a human being who stops at a children’s hospital oncology unit on the way to a game, and no one else knows about it, just to make an impact on kids and make a difference,” Cubs President Theo Epstein told The Tribune. “Then he shows up (at Wrigley) and hits a couple (of) homers. He’s never going to forget where he’s from or forget those kids or turn his back on them.”
Once he returned from Florida and was back with his teammates, Rizzo had no hesitation in recounting the experience as his most traumatic ever.
“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, just going back,” he told the Sun-Times. “You don’t know what to say. There’s nothing you can say. My first instinct was just kind of numb. I felt helpless here. That’s where I grew up. I got in trouble there; I succeeded there; I learned to be who I am because of Parkland.”
Making the tragedy even more emotional was the fact that Rizzo and his brother once played for Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach who died while shielding students from gunfire with his body. According to the Sun-Times, Rizzo’s agent also lost a niece in the shooting.
He said he had seen Feis a few weeks prior at a school fundraiser to provide lights for the baseball field.
In the wake of it all, Maddon said he is now keeping an eye on his star player, making sure he does what he needs to take care of himself while spending so much time worrying about others.
“I think people like him tend to be carriers in the sense that they will carry other peoples’ weight of emotion, and that’s hard to do,” he told the Sun-Times. “I really encouraged him to make sure he takes care of himself while he’s coming back and ease into this situation, because he’s been through a lot.”