How True Superhero Anthony Rizzo is Using Home Runs to Fight Cancer

When Anthony Rizzo signed for the Philadelphia Phillies as a teenage prospect he had the baseball world at his feet, but less than a year later his career seemed to have been ended by a cancer diagnosis. His triumph over the disease and subsequent glittering career form a remarkable tale of triumph over adversity, and with every home run that he hits this True Superhero provides yet more inspiration to other cancer sufferers as he climbs the all time record lists. 

Indoor baseball

Anthony was born in 1989 to John and Laurie Rizzo, in Parkland, Florida. The Rizzos were originally from Sicily - via New Jersey - but had moved to Florida as some of the earliest residents of the area, and they raised their two sons in a peaceful and happy home with Little League dominating their children’s lives. Laurie would not learn the full extent of her family’s baseball obsession until many years later, when John revealed that he would routinely convert the family home into a practice field, telling reporters: "When I was growing up, I was never allowed to play ball in the house. I always said that I would let my kids play, so when Laurie would leave the house, all the gear came out, we played, lamps broke ..."

How True Superhero Anthony Rizzo is Using Home Runs to Fight Cancer

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When Anthony Rizzo signed for the Philadelphia Phillies as a teenage prospect he had the baseball world at his feet, but less than a year later his career seemed to have been ended by a cancer diagnosis. His triumph over the disease and subsequent glittering career form a remarkable tale of triumph over adversity, and with every home run that he hits this True Superhero provides yet more inspiration to other cancer sufferers as he climbs the all time record lists. 

Indoor baseball

Anthony was born in 1989 to John and Laurie Rizzo, in Parkland, Florida. The Rizzos were originally from Sicily - via New Jersey - but had moved to Florida as some of the earliest residents of the area, and they raised their two sons in a peaceful and happy home with Little League dominating their children’s lives. Laurie would not learn the full extent of her family’s baseball obsession until many years later, when John revealed that he would routinely convert the family home into a practice field, telling reporters: "When I was growing up, I was never allowed to play ball in the house. I always said that I would let my kids play, so when Laurie would leave the house, all the gear came out, we played, lamps broke ..."

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Fortunately, most of Anthony’s practice was outdoors, with the full support of his parents. John and Laurie ran the local Little League, but always strived to make the game fun for their children. "I wanted the boys to know if we won, we had ice cream, if you went 0-for-5 and we lost, we'd still have ice cream… Anthony is still eating ice cream before and after games now!" This unusual athletic diet paid dividends, and Anthony showed enormous promise throughout his high school career. He had originally intended to join his older brother at Florida Atlantic University - where John Jr. was a promising football star - but major league scouts had other ideas, and in 2007 Anthony signed for the Red Sox straight out of high school. 

How True Superhero Anthony Rizzo is Using Home Runs to Fight Cancer
Anthony with John Jr. in 2007

Tearing up

Everything initially looked rosy for the young prospect. In his first season in the Rookie league he was used sparingly, only playing in 6 matches but doing more than enough to persuade the staff that he should make the step up to a Single-A league the following year. In 2008 he moved north to South Carolina to join up with the Red Sox affiliate Greenville Drive, but problems arose early in the season. As he later described it - "I went on a road trip, I get back, and I had gained like 15 pounds because my legs had swelled up”. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, aged just 18. 

The Red Sox took swift action to help protect and reassure their young prospect. Anthony was invited to Fenway Park by the team’s GM, Theo Epstein, who said of the meeting "Our hearts were going out to him. We were panicking a little bit. And then when Anthony showed up, he was almost like the calming influence." Fortunately there was another calming influence at the meeting, Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester, who had been diagnosed with Hodgin lymphoma himself in 2005, and went on to not only beat the disease but also win the World Series just two years later. Lester spent an hour reassuring Rizzo that the diagnosis did not mean the end of his career, and then proved his point three days later by pitching a no-hitter versus the Kansas City Royals. With this remarkable demonstration of tenacity as a guide, Anthony began chemotherapy. Six months later, he was given the all-clear by doctors, and told he could resume a normal life. 

How True Superhero Anthony Rizzo is Using Home Runs to Fight Cancer
The 2016 World Series parade

Celebration and grief

In 2010 Anthony was traded by the Red Sox to the San Diego Padres, where he made his major league debut the following year, but he struggled to establish himself in the team and  finished the season with a .141 batting average. In 2012 he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, and his form immediately improved. He hit three game-winning RBIs in his first five games - a franchise record - and picked up the Rookie of the Month award in July, while hitting 15 homers off a .285 batting average. This season firmly established him as one of the league’s most exciting young players, and Rizzo has not disappointed those who had high expectations of him; as of 2022 he’s a three-time All Star, four-time winner of the Gold Glove at first base, and was also awarded the Platinum Glove in 2016. That was the year that the Chicago Cubs finally broke the longest championship drought in North American professional sports, winning the World Series for the first time since 1908. An estimated five million people attended the side’s victory parade, believed to be one of the largest gatherings in human history, and the largest in the history of the United States. 

How True Superhero Anthony Rizzo is Using Home Runs to Fight Cancer
Anthony giving a reading at a Parkland vigil for victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Anthony’s successes had brought millions together in celebration, but he is just as famous for his empathetic response to tragic circumstances. In 2018 his old high school in Parkland, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was the scene of one of the bloodiest school shootings in American history, with 17 staff and pupils killed. One of the victims, Aaron Feis, who died while trying to shield two students from the gunman, was an assistant football coach who used to coach Anthony when he was still a student at the school, and Rizzo knew many more families and friends who were affected by the massacre. Anthony’s response - attending vigils for the victims and calling for change to prevent a repeat of the atrocity - won him admiration and plaudits, and while many opponents of gun control accused him of making political interventions he was able to sidestep them with tact and good grace. 

Baseball is a sport which celebrates all-rounders, with “two-way players” and “five tool guys”  lauded for their versatility and the support they are able to provide to a team’s campaign. Rizzo is not a two-way player on the field - just a prolific hitter and top tier fielder - but off it he demonstrates a range of character traits that are just as versatile. Whether it’s the inspiration he offers as a cancer survivor who reached the top of his sport, or the support he’s able to offer when his community suffers tragic events, there’s no question that he has all the tools required of a True Superhero off the plate.

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