Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo got emotional after presenting a $3.5 million check from his family’s foundation to Lurie Children’s Hospital on Tuesday.
“To be able to give back and do this type of work is so much bigger than winning a World Series,” Rizzo said after choking back tears.
The smile didn’t leave Rizzo’s face after he was greeted off the elevator by nearly 20 patients and their families in the hallway with signs that read: “Thank you, Rizzo!” and “Thanks for being our champ!”
Rizzo, a lymphoma survivor, was nearly speechless as he pulled paper wrapping covering a mural and his Cubs jersey signed by patients on the walls of the hospital’s 18th-floor waiting room named in his honor.
“Wow, this is amazing,” were the only words Rizzo could say as his parents and fiancee joined him.
“This means a lot to me,” a teary-eyed Rizzo said after seeing the waiting room for the first time. “I remember sitting with my mom saying we were going to do this 10 years ago. And you know, this is just a little step in our mission.”
The 2016 World Champion was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was an 18-year-old minor league player in the Boston Red Sox farm system. He underwent six grueling months of chemotherapy.
Rizzo, now 28, has been in remission since 2008. His family’s foundation, Hope 44, has made it a priority to donate money to cancer research and help families pay for medical bills.
Rizzo has donated $4 million to the children’s hospital over his six-year career with the Cubs.
The three-time All-Star also finds time nearly each month in his busy schedule to visit patients at Lurie’s. Rizzo rarely tells the media about his appearances because he doesn’t want to be distracted when he visits the children in their individual rooms.
Matthew Erickson is one of the many kids who has developed a relationship with Rizzo over the years.
Rizzo first met Matthew when he was 10 months old, and Matthew’s mom, Sue Erickson, said the two immediately clicked.
Matthew was diagnosed with a Stage 4 brain tumor at four days old and doctors didn’t believe he would survive, Erickson said.
But Matthew exceeded expectations. The energetic 5-year-old started kindergarten on Monday and celebrated five years off of treatment last week.
Erickson said Matthew’s face always lights up when Rizzo walks into the room.
“Anthony as the baseball player, he’s amazing. He’s an All-Star first baseman; he’s a World Series champ. He’s all of those things,” Erickson said. “But for all the kids and families in the hospital, all the ones that Anthony has touched, he’s far more than that. He’s someone our kids can look up to. He gives us hope. He lets us know that even when times are tough, they’re going to get better.”
Erickson also said that the Rizzos have helped pay for Matthew’s medical bills and the family’s mortgage when they were struggling to make payments. The Rizzos also sent Erickson and her three kids to Disney World last summer for a family vacation.
“His family means the world to us,” she said.
Rizzo said he plans to continue to donate more money and time at Lurie’s.
Follow me on Twitter: @madkenney