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Anthony Rizzo’s leadership qualities extend beyond the game

Those qualities shined through in his heartfelt speech Thursday night.

Anthony Rizzo receiving the Roberto Clemente Award at the 2017 World Series
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The tragic school shooting in Florida earlier this week was brought home to us as Cubs fans when we learned that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was the alma mater of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who graduated from the school in 2007.

Rizzo left Cubs spring camp in Mesa and traveled back to south Florida, where he makes his offseason home, to be with the community there. The Chicago Tribune reported that Rizzo knew some of the shooting victims.

Here’s the speech Rizzo made at a vigil Thursday evening in Florida:

We’ve seen Rizzo grow from a young man who fought cancer when he was barely out of high school to someone who became the on-field leader of the Cubs even before they became a contending team in 2015. The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation raises millions of dollars for cancer research; among the organizations it supports is the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Last October, he received baseball’s highest humanitarian honor, the Roberto Clemente Award, which goes to:

the player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.

There’s no question that Rizzo exemplifies these qualities in everything he does, both as a baseball player and as a human being. He didn’t hesitate in heading home to Florida from Arizona to support members of his community who were hurting.

Rizzo will be back at Cubs camp next week; games will go on, life will go on. But this young man — and yes, he is young, seems wise far beyond his 28 years — has made an indelible stamp on people from his hometown, as well as the entire sporting world, in showing his humanity and support for people when they needed it most.

Too often these days, it’s easy to criticize professional athletes for being “greedy” as they make millions of dollars that most of us will never see. Anthony Rizzo has never hesitated to give back, to remember where he came from, to remember that others are in need. He’s given not only money, but his time, often spending many hours with pediatric cancer patients. He “gets it.”

I’m proud that the Chicago Cubs have a man of Rizzo’s character playing for the team we all love, not to mention his superior ability on the playing field. I’ve written before that the Cubs ought to give him a contract extension for those baseball abilities, and I hope they’ll do that sometime soon, because the leadership qualities are something the Cubs should also value. Anthony Rizzo should be a Cub for the rest of his career; as a World Series champion he’ll always be remembered by Cubs fans, but as the human being he’s become, he should be remembered forever by everyone.

I will ask that you keep your comments to this post non-political. Thank you.