CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said he understands the controversy surrounding his decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but explained that he is "taking some more time to see the data in all of it."
The Cubs are one of eight teams in baseball who haven't reached the 85% vaccination threshold, which would allow for a loosening of restrictions. They're still required to wear masks in the dugout and need permission to leave their hotel on the road, for example.
Rizzo, 31, is a cancer survivor who meets regularly with young cancer patients, though that has been on hold during the pandemic. He said he knows his decision not to get the vaccine has drawn strong reactions from both sides of the debate, adding that he's "definitely not against getting it."
"I love my teammates and love this franchise," he said after the Cubs' 8-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. "This is bigger than baseball. This is a life decision. It weighed hard. It's a decision I made and I stand with, and obviously there are people that are going to hate me and think I'm disgusting. And there are going to be people that side with me, but it's out in the open."
Rizzo didn't get specific with his reasons for not taking the vaccine. He and his teammates have had an ongoing discussion about getting to the 85% threshold. Shortstop Javier Baez is doing PSAs for vaccine awareness.
"We discuss it," Baez said. "If you want to call it, 'we argued about it,' but at the end of the day, we respect each other.
"He just doesn't believe in it right now, and we respect his decision. ... The vaccine was made pretty fast, and a lot of people don't believe in it. I got vaccinated because I have kids and want to protect them."
Rizzo didn't seem to be against the vaccine, per se. In fact, he was thrilled to see Wrigley Field at 100% capacity for one of his most memorable at-bats. With the Cubs trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the 6th inning, Rizzo saw 13 pitches from reliever Daniel Ponce de Leon before taking the 14th one out to right field to tie the game.
"Towards the fifth, sixth, seventh pitch, everyone started getting into it more," Rizzo recalled. "It almost, in a way, helped me calm down and relax. I kept saying to myself, 'Stay locked in, stay locked in.'
Cubs manager David Ross likened the at-bat to one then-teammate Alex Cora had with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004. That one lasted 18 pitches.
"I'll remember this one for a long time," Ross said.
Rizzo added: "It was definitely one of my most memorable at-bats."
Rizzo fouled off six pitches in a row before taking Ball 2, then fouled off three more before going deep.
"I saw all of his pitches, so it was a matter of getting one to hit," Rizzo explained. "He did a good job of flirting with one up, where it's too close to take. Fortunately, for me, I put a good swing on it and had a good result."
The home run came after Rizzo revealed on his own paid radio segment on ESPN 1000 in Chicago that he had not taken the vaccine.
"I think whenever you come out with any decision that's the big topic, it's not easy one way or another," Rizzo said. "This is a big topic. There's a lot of lives being saved from this vaccine. There's a lot of people getting back to their normal life. That's what we want."