Anthony Rizzo says it’s too early to look at the standings and zero in on any one team. The Chicago Cubs first baseman is right, and for baseball fans it’s a glorious sentiment. After a very weird, oftentimes troubling season of baseball amid unprecedented conditions, summer is finally here and ballparks are getting back to normal.
The Cubs star admitted that things just weren’t the same with baseball amid the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. And with cases down, many parks back at full capacity and crowd noise no longer manufactured by a computer, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about the summer ahead.
Rizzo spoke with Uproxx by phone on behalf of BODYARMOR and talked about his stint on the mound this season, staying hydrated and teaching lessons to young baseball fans with the help of ballpark nachos.
Last season was part of a pretty weird year for everybody, things are not totally back to normal but just having people in the ballpark again and feeling a bit more normal must be great. How has this season been so far?
Yeah, it’s amazing. It makes all the difference in the world to have fans in the stands and seeing them enjoy things. Going out to a sporting event and enjoying it, having fun. Getting back to normal definitely helps us with our daily grind.
I wanted to ask about the process of getting ready for the season. As guys are in the league longer, some of their routines change and they add things. Maybe there’s more prep or routines. Has that happened with you? Even with little things like stretching and maybe the mental preparation for the game?
Yeah you really have to rely on your routine. Routine is everything with what you do, fans, no fans. Whoever is pitching, it doesn’t matter. Your routine is the number one thing.
And then when you get out there the energy is just different, having fans back at the ballpark. So it’s been really nice.
You’ve had an interesting season already: you appeared for the Cubs as a pitcher and then got added to MLB The Show as a reliever. Have you had the chance to pitch as yourself in the game?
I have not played my self in the game. If I played The Show, I’d definitely be pitching as myself. That’s hilarious, it’s awesome.
Yeah, pitching was fun. Obviously when you’re getting blown out you can make the team smile a bit and try to wash the loss. It helps. But doing things you don’t normally do on the baseball field is fun and you just try to enjoy it, enjoy the moment.
The story of the year it seems has been pitching, and obviously hitting is down. There are a lot of reasons for that, but are things different as far as approaching pitchers when it seems everyone is throwing gas, everyone has movement. Has your approach as a batter changed this year?
Yeah, guys are definitely throwing harder and throwing sharper breaking balls and all of the above. Approach-wise, you try to take your shots early. And me, I don’t like striking out, so I choke up and try to put the ball in play and let things happen. Of course, across the league averages are down. But, it’s still early.
I know you’re working with BodyArmor and it seems as I get older I notice more how important hydration is for me and feeling right. What’s working with them done to your understanding of your body and what it needs?
One hundred percent. That is definitely as you get older a big part of the routine. Making sure you’re hydrated properly, and not with just anything. With BodyArmor it is amazing with the natural ingredients in there, the coconut water, the antioxidants. I know when I’m drinking that as part of my routine, I’m going to be hydrated. Mix that with water, it’s just the right combination. But it definitely helps me stay on the field and keep everything in line with the body. If you slip for a day or two, it catches up with you.
I had to laugh when I saw your dog doing some promotional work for you on Instagram. Was that photo shoot impromptu? That was some good branding right there.
[laughs] Oh yeah, that’s his favorite toy. We buy him all these toys from the store but the BodyArmor water bottles, that’s his go-to no matter what. Whenever I drink them he always gives me the side-eye because he wants to play with it. He knows to wait until we’re finished because then we’ll throw it to him and he just loves bringing it back and playing fetch with it.
I wanted to ask about your nachos encounter earlier in the year with a fan. I know you couldn’t eat the nachos because of the rules at the time but I wanted to get your take on what you called a “teaching lesson” when reporters asked you about it.
Yeah, the kid had a sign and said if I signed a ball for him he’d give me nachos. So I signed the ball and he came down and just expected me to give him the ball and no nachos. So I had to teach him this isn’t how it works, if I do something for you, you need to have him ready for me. But I ended up giving him the ball and got some nachos a couple innings later.
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) May 23, 2021
That’s always a nice interaction, right? Just the randomness that’s in baseball. Something that was maybe missing last year, but when things like that happen it’s got to make you feel a little more normal, right?
Yeah, everything seems to be going really back to normal. Having the interactions back with fans, it goes a long way. It definitely helps us get back to the daily routine, the grind. Being without this a time, and having those interactions back and staying loose and having fun is always helpful in the long run.
I wanted to ask about settling into a pennant race. It’s been a while since there’s been a long season to settle into playing divisional teams a bunch. Are you starting to learn things about teams like the Cardinals or Brewers or is it still too early to really focus on teams ahead of you or behind you in the race?
Not really. I think the focus is on the Chicago Cubs and what’s going on here. The other teams are really good. The Cardinals, the Pirates who we are playing, they put the ball in play. You don’t really focus on one team, even if they’re ahead of you and you need to catch them. It’s way too early to be locking in on that just yet.