Mom instrumental in Rizzo beating cancer
First baseman's family continues efforts to fight the disease through foundation
CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo's mother, Laurie, drove with her husband, John, about 14 hours in May 2010, to spend Mother's Day with her youngest son. He was playing for the Red Sox's Class A Salem (Va.) team in the Carolina League. Well, he was when the Rizzos left their Parkland, Fla., home.
That Mother's Day, Rizzo was able to give her the perfect present: He was being promoted to Double-A Portland.
"She was there," Rizzo said of his mother. "I got called up, so they drove back home. That was a whirlwind."
But it wasn't surprising. Laurie Rizzo would have driven cross-country to Portland, Ore., to be with her son, now the first baseman for the Cubs. She wasn't sure she'd be able to watch Anthony play again after he was diagnosed with cancer in April 2008.
That year, Rizzo was playing for Class A Greenville and batting .360. But his legs had swollen to the point where they looked like giant sausages.
"When I got back from this road trip, I gained like 15 pounds," Rizzo said. "I was swollen from my waist down and everything, and I thought it was just weird. I was hitting well, so I didn't want to say anything. Two weeks later, after all the tests are in and whatnot, it came to that."
The Red Sox sent him to Boston General Hospital, where he was diagnosed with limited state classical Hodgkin's lymphoma. Laurie was present when the doctors delivered the news.
"I didn't actually want her to be there, because I thought it was just something with my kidney and I was going to get antibiotics. But moms know best, right?" Anthony said. "She decided to fly up to Boston and hang out for a little while -- and when the doctors came in, she was there. It was tough news to get, but the doctors were so assuring that everything would be fine. It was emotional. But with the support I had, it made it easy."
How did his mother handle it?
"Not good," Rizzo said. "It's my mom. She still worries about my brother and [me] all the time. I'm not ashamed to say this: I was spoiled growing up. [My parents] did everything for me, and still do everything for me.
"Like I always say to kids and families, I feel my parents went through [tough times] more than I did. I just had to go through the protocol. They had to go through the worrying and the stress and making sure everything was OK. [My mother] was dealing with my grandmother at the time, too, which was not easy."
Laurie's mother was also battling cancer at that time.
"She knew when I got sick that I didn't want sympathy," Rizzo said. "I didn't want to be known as the 'cancer patient.' I just wanted to be normal, and whenever people asked me, I didn't want them to say, 'Oh, how are you doing? How are you feeling? Can we touch you?' I was just sick. She did real well handling everyone. Everyone was so supportive with the food they'd send and the thoughtful letters."
Laurie took the next step, literally, when she organized a 5-kilometer walkathon last Dec. 9 to raise money for the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. Since Anthony lost his grandmother to the disease and dealt with it himself, he and his mother have been motivated to fight back. The inaugural event raised more than $100,000. They will hold another walk this Dec. 15 in Parkland.
"She did everything," Rizzo said of his mother's involvement with the walkathon. "It's the first time we did something like this. It was an unbelievable event. It's a family foundation, and it was done by the family."
The Rizzo family also adopted Team Italy during the World Baseball Classic, as his older brother, John, made food for the players and staff during the second-round games in Miami. His mother is a pro in the kitchen, too, and makes a pasta and chicken dish that is Anthony's favorite.
"Whenever I go home, like when I was home [in late April], that's all I ate -- breakfast, lunch and dinner," Rizzo said. "She knows. That's what I grew up on. When I'm home, if I want food, she'll cook it for me. I have no shame saying it -- she does everything for me. It's the greatest."
Anthony is a regular visitor at children's hospitals in Chicago, talking to cancer patients about what to expect and trying to inspire them to keep up the battle. When Rizzo was diagnosed, he got advice and support from Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester.
"I always say my parents went through it worse than I did," Rizzo said, "so if I can, I talk to the parents and say, 'It's harder for you guys than it is for the kid, and everything will be OK.' I say the same thing to the kids. I tell them, 'Your parents feel worse than you do.' That's the nature of it. Parents are worried when their kids go to the movies when they're 16 years old. I can't even imagine [how they feel with a child] being sick."
Rizzo has given his mother pink bats from the Minor Leagues, which Major League Baseball encourages players to use on Mother's Day to raise awareness of breast cancer. Other gifts he's delivered in the past include some things for the pool.
This year, Anthony wanted to say thanks for Laurie's support and effort with the walkathon. She turned her young son's bout with cancer into a positive by raising money and awareness to help others.
"She's strong. That's just who she is, where she comes from -- along with my dad and my brother," Rizzo said. "It was a team thing [dealing with cancer]. That's why I say, 'We went through it, we beat it.' I say, 'We're in the big leagues,' not me. It's the whole supporting team that helped me get to where I am now."
And that definitely includes his mom.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.