MILWAUKEE -- When Anthony Rizzo visits cancer patients, he is reminded of a meeting he had with a cancer survivor, which helped inspire the Cubs' first baseman to create his foundation and try to make it easier for families to deal with the horrible disease. Rizzo's efforts would make Roberto Clemente proud.
When Rizzo was an 18-year-old prospect in the Red Sox organization in 2008, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Theo Epstein, who was Boston's general manager at the time, helped arrange a meeting between Rizzo and pitcher Jon Lester, who also had battled lymphoma and beaten it less than two years earlier. Having someone explain what Rizzo and his family could expect helped ease some of the anxiety that they were feeling. And that meeting was one of the inspirations for the creation of the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.
Rizzo, 27, is the Cubs' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, and a well-deserving candidate.
Beginning on Roberto Clemente Day, fans are encouraged to participate in the new process of selecting the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award by posting any nominee's voting hashtags to MLB's official social media accounts, @MLB on Twitter and Facebook.com/Cubs. Rizzo's hashtag is #VoteRizzo.
Major League Baseball announced the 30 club nominees on Tuesday for the annual recognition of a player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field. Each club nominates one player to be considered for the Roberto Clemente Award in tribute to Clemente's achievements and character by recognizing current players who truly understand the value of helping others.
"All the baseball stuff is great, but I like what he's done, what he's grown into as a man and a person," Lester said of Rizzo. "A lot of guys that age don't think about that stuff. For him to put in that effort and time is pretty special. He's definitely a good guy to have in Chicago to keep raising awareness."
During the regular season, Rizzo makes monthly visits to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital. He is a familiar face to those in the pediatric oncology floor, bringing Cubs goodies to patients and their families, as well as signing autographs and taking photos. Rizzo also makes sure the patients sign one of his jerseys, which he will then have framed.
Since its inception, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation has made a huge impact by raising nearly $2 million for pediatric cancer research and support. Rizzo's foundation hosts three fundraising events each year, including a 5K "Walk-Off for Cancer" in Florida; a "Cook-Off" culinary based event in Chicago; and a "Laugh Off" comedy night in Chicago.
The organizations selected as beneficiaries of Rizzo's foundation include the Lymphoma Program at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Health System, Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Family Reach Foundation, and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
Wednesday marks the 15th annual Roberto Clemente Day, which was established by Major League Baseball to honor Clemente's legacy and to officially acknowledge local club nominees of the Roberto Clemente Award. Clubs playing at home on Wednesday will recognize their local nominees as part of Roberto Clemente Day ceremonies. Visiting clubs will honor their nominees before another September home game.
As part of the league-wide celebration, the Roberto Clemente Day logo will appear on the bases and official dugout lineup cards and a special tribute video will be played in ballparks.
The original "Commissioner's Award" for philanthropic service was renamed in 1973 in honor of Clemente, the Hall of Famer and 15-time All-Star, who died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.