He may not have taken home the MVP trophy when the Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in the final game of the 2016 World Series, but the real hero of the history-making team is without a doubt first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Sure, he played a phenomenal game and even was responsible for the final out of the game, but it his contributions off the field that set him apart from other professional athletes.
In 2007, shortly after being drafted by the Red Sox, 18-year-old Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. With the help of chemotherapy, the baseball star, who has been in Chicago since 2012, triumphed and in September celebrated eight years of being cancer-free.
While he is without a doubt one of the most inspirational athletes in the history of the game, when the All-Star athlete isn’t playing America’s favorite pastime, he is devoting his life to helping raise money for cancer research and providing support to children and their families battling the disease.
In 2012 he started the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, a non-profit organization run entirely by his family. Not only has it raised over $2.5 million ($1.5 million alone in the last year!), the baseball star himself has personally inspired many young children who are battling cancer. During his monthly visits to the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, the professional athlete visits with children and their families, brings them signed memorabilia, and also gets their signature on his own jersey.
One of these kids is Benjamin Burke, a 7-year-old boy from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, who was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in late 2015. Last winter the avid baseball fan met Rizzo, during his stay at the hospital, and the two formed a friendship for life.
“Anthony came into our lives while we were under the most terrifying and traumatic circumstances. Singlehandedly, along with his foundation, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, Anthony has helped our 7-year-old associate his cancer battle with baseball and the love of the Cubs instead of a horrific, life threatening illness,” Benjamin’s mother, Jennie Burke, tells Babble.
She explains that after multiple visits to the family at the hospital and inviting them to Cubs games, Benjamin feels like Anthony is his best friend. The baseball star even walked up to Benjamin’s supporters at one of the playoff games (they were wearing “Brave for Benjamin” t-shirts) and asked where his little friend was.
“He truly is invested in the genuine relationships he makes with children and families who are suffering in a way that only a cancer survivor can understand. He is kind, generous, brave, sweet, and most importantly genuine,” she continues.
“Our family is committed to sharing our story of Benjamin’s fight with leukemia to raise awareness and money for research and support for other families like ours.”
Burke, whose son raised over $20,000 for the foundation by setting up a lemonade stand earlier this fall, is confident that the World Series win isn’t just a big accomplishment for the Cubs, but also a huge score for Rizzo’s foundation as he now has a much larger platform for his cause.
“Anthony tells me to be strong and never give up,” Benjamin tells Babble about Rizzo, who dedicated his 18th home run to him this season.
“He is my friend, and I am so excited that they won!”
To learn more about the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation or to make a donation, head over to their website by clicking here.