Rizzo making impact, on the field and off
SAN DIEGO -- Anthony Rizzo proved on Saturday night that a strapping left-handed hitter can reach the usually unattainable right-field bleachers at PETCO Park. The Padres rookie first baseman did just that with his first Major League home run."That's true raw power," Padres manager Bud Black said on Sunday before the Padres dropped a 2-0 decision to the Nationals. "There's all kinds of power, but there's no doubt that Anthony has true all-field power." Rizzo was brought up from Triple-A Tucson on Thursday. In his first four games -- all against the Nationals -- he was 3-for-10 with the homer, a double, triple, five walks and was hit by a pitch. But Rizzo had as much of an impact off the field as he did on it during his first weekend with the Padres. Here's the back story on the home run: The ball landed 378-feet away just above the 12-foot wall that supports the out-of-town scoreboard and became wedged beneath the railing. An usher handed the soon-to-be-coveted baseball to a fan seated a few rows away -- Nina Magliozzi, from nearby Carlsbad, Calif. The Padres sent a representative to the area in search of the baseball, inviting Nina and three of her friends to meet with Rizzo outside the Padres clubhouse just after the game. Nina made no demands. She said she wanted nothing for the baseball. In her mind, that first home run ball was his. "Someone came and got me and asked me what I wanted for the ball," Nina explained as video cameras recorded the meeting. "But we just wanted to meet him. It belonged to him. We weren't going to take it from him." When Rizzo emerged from the clubhouse he was all smiles. Nina gave him the baseball and the moment could've ended there with a handshake. It didn't. Rizzo went back into the clubhouse and fetched one of his game-used bats. He asked Nina her name and inscribed it on the barrel of the bat along with his signature. One of her friends had a sky-blue cast on his wrist and Rizzo signed that, too. It was a sweet exchange, but there's more. As he headed back to the clubhouse door, Rizzo spun around and asked the group, "Do you want any baseballs?" "That was super nice," Nina said. In that instant Rizzo made a fan for life. And what does he have planned for that first home run baseball? "I think this is more important to my family. I'm going to give it to my parents," Rizzo said. "I'm really more happy for them than I am for myself." Having met Rizzo in the Minor Leagues earlier this season far from the madding crowd, there's no question that this is the way the kid is. So far, he's seemingly unaffected by his budding stardom. Perhaps the bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma and six months of chemotherapy that wiped out his first professional season has been a centering force. Perhaps it goes well beyond that. "It's definitely an inspiration to me to help somebody who [has cancer]," Rizzo said. "I want to reach out. Give them a hand. Perhaps even now being up in the big leagues I want to help people even more. Give them hope that they can get through it. The same kind of hope I had." About him actually becoming the face of the franchise, Rizzo added: "I don't even think about that. I'm just going to go out and play every day. I'll try to become a fan favorite and just go from there." All of this is connected, of course, to how Rizzo performs on the field. The Padres haven't added a pure untapped power threat since 1973 when Dave Winfield was drafted, skipped the Minor Leagues and came right out of college to play right field in San Diego. That was almost 40 years ago. Rizzo takes such a big swing that even when he misses, the crowd goes, "oooo, ahhh," Black mimicked. "There's always a lot of excitement when a young guy like this comes up," he added. To give one an idea of what kind of poke it is to reach the right-field seats at PETCO, the Padres estimate that since the ballpark opened in 2004 only 28 percent -- or 270 of the 966 homers hit here -- have reached that lofty spot. And that includes the 10-foot high "short porch" nestled 322-feet away down the line. "I got it pretty good and it was able to go over the wall," Rizzo said. "I was pretty happy. Rizzo is now 1-for-1 on right field PETCO homers, as Nina can certainly attest.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.