MESA, Ariz. -- Anthony Rizzo stopped by Cubs camp Sunday on his way to Miami, where he'll lead Italy into the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
For Rizzo, who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., it will be an unlikely homecoming and a kind of March Madness no one envisioned when he left Hohokam Stadium one week ago.
"A couple of my friends said they were going to dress up as the Mario Brothers," Rizzo said.
Wearing a shirt from Inter Milan, one of Italy's premier soccer teams, Rizzo came back to gather some belongings from his locker and watch the finals of the Cubs' bunting tournament.
"I expected to be back in camp today," Rizzo said. "But that's the beauty of this game, on any given day, any given team can win."
While Rizzo has been gone, the Cubs offense has struggled. They entered Sunday's game against the Padres hitting .247, worst among all major league teams this spring, and were shut out for five innings before exploding late in a 9-2 win.
"Obviously we're missing Rizzo and (Starlin) Castro," manager Dale Sveum said before the game.
"But (David) DeJesus is swinging the bat really well, (Scott) Hairston is coming around a little bit, (Luis) Valbuena is OK, (Welington) Castillo is struggling. But, yeah, even our secondary guys are (struggling). We're not swinging the bats at all. The on-base percentage, everything, has been pretty bad this spring, after two pretty good games to start the Cactus League.
"It's not that easy to not get 10 hits in a Cactus League game, and we haven't done that in a while. ... We've got to start kicking it in."
Sveum isn't too concerned, knowing Rizzo and Castro are two main ingredients of their offense. But Rizzo will be gone until Thursday at least, enjoying the spotlight as one of the name players on the scrappy Italian team that beat Mexico and Canada in the WBC.
"This is huge for the country of Italy," Rizzo said.
Italy will play in a bracket with the United States, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Rizzo said his father spoke to one of his cousins in Italy and was told the country is "going crazy, going insane" over the unexpected showing. The 23-year-old first baseman said he has enjoyed the WBC, especially the hat exchanges with the other teams before games. He has received Joey Votto's Team Canada hat and Ryan Braun's Team USA hat.
But Rizzo said the best part has been seeing the smiles on the faces of the native Italian players, who are trying to prove their country can play the sport competitively.
"The joy that they have coming to play here, and what it means to them ..." he said. "I think it's gotten to me too. I'm kind of doing it for them, and for the team."
Sveum and several Cubs players owe Rizzo's charity $500 apiece after agreeing to donate the money if Italy won so much as one WBC game. The clubhouse meeting was taped, and Rizzo is not sure who said they would contribute.
"I'm going to have to go look at that video," he said. "We'll see who is trying to hide it."
Either way, Italy has been the story of the tournament, advancing to the second round while a Venezuelan team led by Miguel Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and other major league stars has been eliminated. No one expects the Italians to win another game, so there's no pressure.
"We have nothing to lose," Rizzo said. "And everything to gain."
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