Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has no All-Star appearance and will have no World Series parade to show for his 2017 season.
But Rizzo takes home what he considers one of the biggest honors of his career — honored Friday as baseball’s 2017 Roberto Clemente Award winner for his year-round work with pediatric cancer patients and fundraising for cancer research and family support.
“It’s insane over the past few years how many people tell me we helped someone out, and it makes me so happy,” said Rizzo, a cancer survivor who in 2008 as a Red Sox minor leaguer was diagnosed with Limited Stage Classical Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Rizzo, 28, regularly visits hospitals, befriending pediatric patients and their families, and offering support and sharing his experiences – along with the occasional autographed photo, ball or jersey.
“To touch lives like that, it’s something you can’t really explain,” said Rizzo, who does much of his work through the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.
Rizzo tweeted about the loss this week of one of those young patients, a little girl named Mia. “You will be missed but never forgotten,” he wrote in the tweet.
“Mia has been there since the beginning,” he said. “Every time I saw her she was a breath of fresh air. Last time I saw her, she was at Wrigley. she wasn’t looking too good. But I saw her smile.
“Going through this over the past six years, there’s been a lot of good times, but when you lose kids that are the base of the foundation, it’s not easy.”
Originally called the Commissioner’s Award in its inaugural 1971 presentation, the name was changed in 1973 in honor of Pirates Hall of Famer Clemente after he was killed in a plane crash the previous New Year’s Eve attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
The award goes to the player who, “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”
Fans and media vote from a list that includes one nominee from each of the 30 teams.
“When I found out, it was really emotional for everyone involved in the foundation and my life and my team,” Rizzo said of the award. “Roberto set the bar for all athletes, especially baseball players. Everything he got he gave back.”
Rizzo has been the Cubs’ nominee all five of his full seasons with the Cubs.
“Baseball is my passion, but to be able to reach out on a different level than that is something that I’ll never overlook,” said Rizzo, a three-time All-Star, who has four consecutive 30-homer seasons.
“Baseball awards are amazing, but to be able to be a part of this type of award is something else.”
Willie Mays was the award’s first recipient in 1971. Recent winners include Chicago native Curtis Granderson last year and Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen in 2015.
The White Sox’ Paul Konerko was a co-winner in 2014.
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Contributing: Madeline Kenney