Anthony Rizzo on Arizona Plan, Safety as Priority, Looking at 2020 Season Like ‘Major League’

The primary focus of Ken Rosenthal’s extensive Q&A with Anthony Rizzo for The Athletic was the superstar’s charitable efforts, which have expanded and evolved since the start of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. As with any subscription pieces, I’m going to recommend you click the link and check out the interview in its entirety before coming back because what follows is only going to feature small excerpts from Rizzo’s answers.

Pretty cool stuff in there, right? Now that you’ve taken the time to read through the whole thing, let’s circle back to some of the baseball-specific conversations. Rizzo offered opinions on the Arizona Plan — where all 30 teams would be sequestered in Phoenix-area hotels to play games in empty ballparks — and in MLB’s return in general, coloring his thoughts with knowledge of how events are unfolding in South Korea.

“I think you’re going to have a hard time telling grown men with established lives to stay in a hotel and not be with their families,” Rizzo told Rosenthal. “You’re going to tell Kris Bryant that he’s not going to see his baby (born April 7) for 4 1/2 months?”

Rizzo acknowledged that a shorter stint in the desert, maybe six weeks, would be more logistically sound. In the end, though, it’s all about ensuring the health of the players and everyone around them. Even if families aren’t present, you’re talking about thousands of hotel and food service workers, team and ballpark staff, etc.

That’s where widespread access to rapid testing and treatment becomes necessary, with additional preventive measures being taken as well. Dr. Anthony Fauci believes sports can return this year under those conditions, but we’ve got a long way to go in the US to get to where other countries are already. For instance, KBO teams are being very proactive when it comes to their players and staff.

Rizzo talks every day with Casey Kelly, his good friend from stints in the Red Sox and Padres organizations, about Kelly’s experience in South Korea and has gained a measure of confidence in baseball’s return as result. As long as the right precautions are being taken, the first baseman said he’d feel safe to play again.

“Before you walk into the stadium, they can tell if you’re lying about feeling good because they have a camera on you basically (measuring) your body heat,” Rizzo explained. “He said he actually feels really safe. Talking to him, it gives me hope here. Pretty much it’s all open and normal. They all live on their own. It’s just, how quickly can we get to that?”

There are other concerns, however, both in terms of safety and the quality of play. That latter part is obviously secondary, but it’s impossible to deny that it’ll be part of the conversation when it comes to reopening MLB.

“If we go to Arizona, being around the guys is fine,” Rizzo said. “It’s just making sure everyone is healthy all the time. From what I’ve read, if someone gets it, they’ll just be sent home and quarantined and monitored — there will be extra guys. But if your superstars in the league get it — if Javy Báez gets it, if Mike Trout gets it — that’s not going to be good for the sport.

“And God forbid someone catches a bad strain of it. …You have to make sure it’s safe. That’s my first and foremost thought about it.”

As with the rest of us, the more pressing matters of dealing with this pandemic have effectively flushed away the more trivial concerns of who would make the 26-man roster and why the Cubs didn’t spend more money. That isn’t just true for fans, as the players were more than well aware of the situation facing them in 2020. I suppose they sort of had to be, what with the long-running talk about accountability and reckoning.

Rizzo admitted to Rosenthal that Cubs players were having internal conversations about just how finite their time together as a group might be. With much of the core guaranteed only one more season at most after this one, there was a distinct possibility that another disappointing performance could see the roster reshaped at the deadline or over the following winter.

“[T]he reality is that if you get off to a bad start, this team could look a lot different at the trade deadline,” Rizzo said. “We were putting a lot of emphasis about getting off to a good start, together. We didn’t want to have this team broken up.

“It was almost like (in the movie) ‘Major League’ when they were selling the team — the team came together. That was the feeling we had. We don’t want to put ourselves in a position to have to be sellers. We wanted to put ourselves in position to force (management’s) hand and be buyers.”

I dig this mentality, as long as we never have to see a cardboard cutout of Tom Ricketts sporting pasties and smuggling grapes in a banana hammock. While I won’t go so far as to say the Cubs had been mailing it in since winning the World Series, there’s been a different vibe over the past few seasons and it appeared evident from the outside that they just weren’t being pushed or pushing themselves as hard as they could have. It’s a little meatballish to say they should have been pissed off about their poor finishes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.

Or maybe they were pushing just as hard and they were pissed, just that they maintained a more relaxed countenance for the public. Something tells me that’ll all be gone by the time the game resumes, at whatever point that may be. In addition to David Ross coming in with more of that iron-sharpens-iron mentality — which I know is trite, but I’m in the mood for clichés — this whole shutdown will have sand-blasted away any of the standard tropes and rote answers.

These guys are all going to be hungry, and that goes for more than just the Cubs, so I’m actually thinking we’ll eventually see a really intense brand of baseball. Now please, if you didn’t at the top of the post, go read the rest of what Rizzo had to say.

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