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Cubs playing each game of shortened season as if it’s their last together

“I’m not going to shy away from this: This could be our last year together. I think we all know that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.

“I’m not going to shy away from this, this could be our last year together,” the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo (right) said.
“I’m not going to shy away from this, this could be our last year together,” the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo (right) said.
Tony Dejak/AP

First baseman Anthony Rizzo plays a vital role in the Cubs’ on-field production, but he’s also a huge factor when it comes to the team’s overall presence and morale.

The Cubs’ vocal leader understands that the way he sets the tone has a major effect on the team’s overall energy.

Whether it’s “Tony Two Chains” popping gold chains after hitting a homer or hyping guys up after a big play, his presence is the heartbeat in the clubhouse.

If you ask any Cub, they’ll tell you that Rizzo has always been this way. But this year’s unique circumstances have made him more conscious of his role and reflective because of all the unknowns still ahead.

“I’m not going to shy away from this: This could be our last year together,” Rizzo said. “I think we all know that, especially with the state of the game and who knows what’s gonna happen. This could be our last run with all our core guys. This could be my last year, who knows? So I’m enjoying every second of it.”

The Cubs’ team energy has been discussed ad nauseam and can be noticed with a quick glance or listen inside the dugout or bullpen. Those shared experiences undoubtedly have played a role in the Cubs getting off to their historic start.

It makes sense that Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and the rest of the Cubs’ core have taken it upon themselves to create their own energy. Rizzo acknowledged that when they were younger, they looked up to players such as their manager, David Ross, and others whom they’re emulating.

Now younger teammates such as Nico Hoerner can lean on them.

“I don’t know if anybody’s trying to do anything more,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘I don’t think anybody’s trying to be someone they’re not. I do think that we’re all collectively trying to just have more fun because this year is what it is. It’s very different.

“With the circumstances we’re playing under, everything is very different. So I think it’s important that we have a fun group that goes out there and just has fun on the bench. . . . I think we’ve used that to our advantage, and we have the perfect group for that type of atmosphere.”

Ross said earlier in the season that players have little to no interaction with people outside of the ballpark, which has made his time with his players worthwhile. The Cubs have created a winning environment in which players feel comfortable expressing themselves, and staying engaged comes in handy in an atypical year like this.

Obviously, there are no guarantees this season, and as teams deal with a global pandemic, things can take a turn at any time. With that in mind, the Cubs are keeping things in perspective as they try to make the most of the rest of the season.

“When times get tough — I’ve obviously been through a tough time before — you start appreciating all the little things again that maybe you take for granted,” Rizzo said.

“I’m a victim of it. I’m sure everyone, you guys are all victims of it, but it’s the joy of the game that we’re playing for right now.

“I think it’s really showing that we’re just basically playing high school summer baseball right now. That’s how we feel like we’re playing. Just going out and playing baseball and not worrying about if someone’s hitting .500 or if someone’s hitting under .200. It’s just, let’s win, pick each other up and figure it out.”