March 6, 2009 at 9:04 AM
Anthony Rizzo is back, and he’s back big. A 19-year-old first baseman who was selected by Boston in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, Rizzo returns to the diamond after having not only his career, but his life threatened just 18 games into the 2008 season. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after hitting a robust .373 to start the campaign, Rizzo missed the remainder of the season while undergoing chemotherapy. Once again healthy, and in the best shape of his life, the sturdy 6’3” 240 lb. Rizzo is in camp ready to be more than a just cancer survivor; he’s ready to reestablish himself as one of the top power-hitting prospects in the Red Sox organization.
David Laurila: How does it feel to be playing baseball again?
Anthony Rizzo: I’m just happy to be back. I never really knew … I guess I could say that I took it for granted a little bit, just how much I love baseball, before it was taken away from me. So I’m just happy to be on the field again. I’m 100 percent; I’ve never felt better, and I just can‘t wait for the season to start. [Editor’s note: Red Sox minor league infield coordinator Bruce Crabbe walks by at this time.]
DL: Bruce, how would you describe Anthony Rizzo as a player?
Bruce Crabbe: Well, for as little as we’ve seen him, he’s an all-around player. He’s athletic defensively ... he’s got skills as a defender, and he’s head-and-shoulders above the rest, potential-wise. He can do everything on the field. He’s a factor defensively. As a first baseman, he’s more than just a receiver; he’s a defender on the field. Offensively, you know … I can’t really comment on his hitting potential, because it’s not really my area. But he can play.
Rizzo: Thanks, Crabby.
DL: Anthony, how would you describe yourself as a hitter?
Rizzo: My overall approach … when I first got here I was aggressive. Now I’ve learned to not be so anxious, and to just see pitches. The more pitching I see, the easier hitting is going to get for me.
DL: Is that the approach being driven by Red Sox organization?
Rizzo: No, the organization doesn’t stress too much on it. They want you to pick selective pitches; they want you to be a selective hitter and always be ready. But, as far as the organization goes, they’ve all been great for me. They all take care of me real well, and don’t really mess with me that too much. They just kind of talk to me and guide me.
DL: Do you see yourself as a power hitter?
Rizzo: I mean, home runs are nice, but it’s not like I’m going up there to hit a home run. I’m just trying to hit the gaps, and win, really.
DL: How would you describe yourself mechanically?
Rizzo: I don’t know; I just see the ball and hit the ball. I have a basic stance, maybe a little bit open. I try to just keep it real simple, get my foot down early and get my hands to the ball.
DL: You were hitting .373 at Greenville before being sidelined with the illness. Why were you having that much success?
Rizzo: Just hard work. I trained so hard last off-season. I got to Greenville and I struggled the first couple of games, and then everything just kind of clicked. I started having fun again, and as long as you have fun, baseball is easy.
DL: Have you worked much with Bob Tewksbury?
Rizzo: Yeah, I’m in contact with Tewks quite a bit. He talked to me while I was out with my sickness, but me and Tewks have a pretty good relationship - we talk all the time. We talk about anything, really. He’ll ask me how I’m doing. I’ll ask about his family, he’ll ask about mine. We’ll talk about what’s going on in the world, things like that. It’s just a friendly relationship.
DL: Is having a good relationship with members of the player development staff important to you?
Rizzo: Oh yeah, of course. I mean, everyone in this organization is so easy to get along with. It’s not like you can’t have a relationship with any of them. I can call anyone from Theo on down and just have a friendly relationship. I played for Kevin Boles in Greenville, and he’s awesome. He’s just a real nice coach, real laid back. If you’re not doing the right thing, he’ll get on you for it, but I had no complaints about him, at all.
DL: Are you expecting to be back in Greenville this year?
Rizzo: More than likely I’ll start off there. I mean, I’m hoping to break [camp] for Salem, but it’s not like I’ll be overly disappointed to go back to Greenville. Wherever I play, I just want to play and get at bats. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the Gulf Coast League or Salem, I just want to be playing.
DL: How would you describe your personality?
Rizzo: Off the field I’m just laid back and like to have fun. I like to mess around. And I’m super competitive. I’ll play anyone, in any competition, at any time, whether if it’s juggling balls or flipping a hat. On the field, I’m the same way. I’m a competitor and I hate to lose. In my opinion, I’m also more of a team guy than an “I” guy. I’m kind of a motivational guy in the dugout and in the clubhouse. I wouldn’t say that I’m rah-rah, it’s more that I try to lead by example. I was one of the youngest guys on the team, so I just tried to play hard on the field and lead by doing that. Really, what matters most to me right now is that I’m back out there. I’m just happy to be playing baseball again.