It’s not that he has become indifferent to struggles. He just knows that kicking and screaming to make a show of his frustration won’t get him anywhere.
“This game, playing in 162 games, it’s not easy to do nowadays,” Rizzo said. “Before, you’d get a little help with some things you can take. A lot of things are banned to give you that energy nowadays. For me, my body physically is great. There are no complaints there. It’s just more taking that mental day off, which was the nicest thing.”
Rizzo’s latest lesson has been with the value of that mental day. He finally got one Tuesday at St. Louis, his first off day after starting each of the first 68 games of the season. The benefits continue to show.
Rizzo had one hit Wednesday when he returned to the lineup, but more importantly he hit the ball hard three times. He had another hit Tuesday before collecting a home run among his two hits Friday.
“Sometimes it does (help), sometimes it doesn’t; you can never predict anything like that,” manager Dale Sveum said of the off day. “But sometimes it’s nice. And he had the whole day, I didn’t have to pinch hit him. Sometimes you do that in the National League and you have to use the guy to pinch hit and if he strikes out, he’s right back to where he was before the day off. It’s nice for the guys when they do get the day off that you’re able to stay completely away from them.”
Rizzo’s ebbs and flows have been wild this season. He had an 0-for-23 stretch in May, but he also went 8-for-13 over a three-game stretch from May 8-11. His 3-for-5 performance against the Washington Nationals on May 11 was the high point of his season so far. He had a .288 batting average after that game with a .915 OPS.
In the 34 games since then, heading into play Saturday, Rizzo had just a .209 batting average with a .663 OPS. Throughout the rough five-week stretch, he has remembered not to panic and now that things are starting to improve, he wants to keep the confidence without thinking he has it all figured out.
“If you kick yourself in the butt you’re going to have a long, long season,” he said. “By staying even-keeled, you’ve learned that from the veterans in here who come in every day as the same guy. It’s just what you have to do to be a good teammate and a good person.”
Adversity at a young age might be making an ever-so-slight positive impact on Rizzo now. In 2008 while playing in the Boston Red Sox’s system, Rizzo dealt with a well-publicized bout with cancer. He played in just 21 games at Single-A Greenville after being diagnosed with limited-stage classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“He’s obviously dealt with adversity off the field in his life,” Sveum said. “Sometimes this kind of adversity is kind of minute compared to what he had to deal with off the field. But it’s not that easy when you’re trying to produce and you have 40,000 people in the stands. Nobody wants to be embarrassed, but it’s how you get through all that.”
For those that scoff at the workload of baseball players, or perhaps golfers, Rizzo says a solid work ethic will determine your success level. And like in any walk of life, asking a lot of yourself has its inherent dangers.
“It’s not just showing up 20 minutes before the game, stretching and playing like you did in Little League,” Rizzo said. “It’s a long, long day. It’s just like golf. Those guys play Thursday through Sunday. They practice Monday through Wednesday probably longer than they play their golf rounds. It’s a grind, but this is what we signed up for and this is what we do. It’s the best thing in the world.”
As things start to look up again, Rizzo’s long days are about maintaining what he is doing as opposed to discovering what is going wrong. It makes the mental grind easier to bear.
“That’s where I want to be to stay there and continue to stay there,” he said. “The results might come or they might not, but if you do the right thing you’ll get your hits.”