Anthony Rizzo has a purpose that's bigger than baseball

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It’s impossible to get through a day in Chicago without thinking about Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Whether you’re a North sider or a South sider, references to Rizzo’s charity are deeply ingrained in the city.

When you order dinner at Buona Beef — a local Italian beef chain — one of your options is a beef sandwich called “The Anthony Rizzo #44.” Proceeds benefit The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. When you shop at Jewel — a local grocery chain — the cashier asks if you would like to make a donation to Rizzo’s foundation as you check out.

Those constant daily reminders happen because Rizzo has worked hard to make his foundation one of the most visible in the city. When he’s not smacking home runs at Wrigley Field, the 29-year-old Rizzo is giving back to the community. Rizzo’s charitable work in Chicago has become so prevalent, that its presence will be felt in the city long after he hangs up his cleats.

Rizzo’s charity work is well known around the league. In 2014, Rizzo became the youngest person to win the Branch Rickey award, which is given to players, managers or executives who contribute most to their community. He won the Heart & Hustle award, which is given to the player who “best embodies the values, spirits and traditions of baseball” a year later. In 2017, Rizzo presented Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago with a $3.5 million check from his foundation. Rizzo had tears in his eyes as he addressed children and hospital staff at the event. The following year, Rizzo presented Lurie’s Children’s Hospital with a $2 million check.

There was also the time he sang karaoke with teammate Kyle Schwarber at one of his foundation’s events at Second City in Chicago. Or the time he helped young Cubs fan battling cancer in St. Louis replace a memento she lost.

A year after he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. It was during that time he told his family he wanted to start a foundation.

“I think right away when I got sick I spoke with my family about being able to give back,” Rizzo told Yahoo Sports. “Hopefully, making it to the majors leagues one day and starting my own foundation. I didn’t think it would ever be this big. But we’ve grown to something that’s just been so amazing and it’s something that goes way beyond baseball.”

After undergoing chemotherapy, Rizzo went into remission. After a brief stop in San Diego, he was traded to the Cubs in 2012, the same year he started the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, which helps raise money for cancer research and supports families battling the disease.

Chicago turned out to be the perfect place for Rizzo to settle in. On the field, he was an integral part of the team’s first World Series championship in over 100 years. Off the field, he was able to make a big impact in the community and with charitable efforts.

“I’m very lucky to be in Chicago with the fan base we have,” Rizzo says. “The things we’ve done on the baseball field have certainly helped, but this city is basically home to me. To be able to do the majority of [charity work] here is amazing, but we spread out through the nation and have donated in all parts of this country.”

While many other athletes have charitable foundations, Rizzo makes it a point to be actively involved and present at events. His personal experience with cancer is what inspires him to be there for others who are experiencing what he dealt with.

“I’ve been through it, so and I know it’s not fun and I know there’s really hard days and there’s also really good days as well,” he explained. “Going through all that puts it all in perspective, so anything I do on the baseball field isn’t nearly as … it feels amazing to do good things on the baseball field, but to go to a hospital and see a kid smile for the first time in weeks, or months … that is such a better feeling.”

Anthony Rizzo surprised Little Leaguers on Tuesday. (Alex Garcia/Getty Images for Canon)
Anthony Rizzo surprised Little Leaguers on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

While working with his foundation makes up a significant portion of Rizzo’s presence in the city. Supporting the Chicago community matters, too. On Tuesday, Rizzo surprised Chicago Little League baseball players as part of a partnership with Canon and their PIXMA printers.

Rizzo spoke glowingly about his experience in Little League and how many of his memories are of the old pictures his parents used to hang on the family’s fridge. He went through drills, observed players in the batting cages and encouraged them to print out photos on Canon printers so they could create the same memories he had growing up.

Those are the interactions that matter more to Rizzo. The on-field success is important, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the feeling Rizzo gets when he’s helping others.

“Obviously, want to continue to play great baseball, put out really good numbers and [keep] winning,” Rizzo says. “And I’m hoping to rattle off a couple more championships, obviously. That’s the goal.

“But as we do that, [I want to] continue to do what I do, go visit the kids in the hospitals and reach out any way I can and be there for as many people as we can. At the end of the day, that’s a lot more important than a baseball game.”

That will ultimately be Rizzo’s legacy in Chicago. His contributions to the city won’t end when he retires from baseball, or if he leaves via free agency. Rizzo has a $14.5 million option in 2020 the Cubs will almost certainly pick up, but that’s the final year of his current contract.

Long after the day he’s done in Chicago, Rizzo’s impact on the city will still be felt. The young people he’s impacted through his foundation, and those whose memories he’s touched, they’ll make sure that part of Rizzo’s legacy carries on through the city.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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