Rizzo beats cancer, ready to take on first base for Padres

HealthSportsBaseballDiseases and IllnessesCancerSan Diego PadresBoston Red Sox

Anthony Rizzo will have some big shoes to fill as the Padres first baseman, but really, that's nothing compared to the cancer he's already beaten.

Rizzo came to the Padres from the Boston Red Sox in the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, and he appears to be the long-term solution at first base.

By looking at the 6' 3" 220-pound first baseman, you would never know that in April of 2008, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

"The first thing I thought of when I heard 'cancer' was Lance Armstrong because you know his story," Rizzo said after a recent workout at Petco Park. "And chemotherapy, I freaked out."

Rizzo underwent cancer treatments and chemotherapy for six months, pre-empting what was supposed to be his first professional season.

"I had to start all over," Rizzo said. "All the chemo really wiped me out so I had to start all over but I had great trainers on the way. My trainer back home was outstanding with working me and not giving me any leniency.

Rizzo said he is now cancer free with a greater perspective.

"Coming out of it, I feel like it made me a lot stronger as a person," Rizzo said. "I mean, if I go on a 0-for-20 slump, it doesn't matter that much to me. I'll get out of it.

"There's been times last summer and the summer before that, where I get down," Rizzo continued. "I was wearing my yellow 'Live Strong' bracelet and just looked at that and said, 'Hey, a couple years ago I was battling for my life.' I don't really get too down with the downs and try not to get too high with the highs."

Rizzo earned the Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year award last season hitting 25 home runs and 42 doubles between Single-A and Double-A.

The 22 year-old said he likes to use his power and drive the ball into the gaps. He also said he knows the expectations of one day taking over for Gonzalez, an Eastlake High School graduate and Chula Vista native, who won a gold glove award and hit 161 home runs with the Padres - second-most in team history.

"(Adrian's) a guy that I've been following since he's been in the big leagues with how great his swing is, and how good he is on the field," Rizzo said. "It's a tremendous honor to be traded for him."

"I'm not going to be able to fill his shoes. I'm just trying to make my own shoes really," he said. "I'm not trying to fill anyone's shoes, I'm just trying to be the person I am and who I've been raised to be."

The Padres have invited Rizzo to spring training with the Major League club but also signed free agent Brad Hawpe to start the season at first base. Rizzo will most likely go to Triple-A Tucson but there is a possibility he may see some Major League action later this season.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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