Sometimes, the indoctrination can feel like an initiation. Ask Tino Martinez what it was like to show up in place of Don Mattingly. Ask Jason Giambi what it was like to show up in place of Tino Martinez. Ask Alex Rodriguez what it was like to show up for work on just about any random day before Nov. 4, 2009.
And it isn’t just the Yankees, of course. New York is demanding. New York wants what it wants, and sometimes takes a while to figure out what that is. Mets fans were mostly brutal to Mike Piazza during his first two months on the job. Knicks fans took a while to warm up to Carmelo Anthony, and a fair amount never did.
Anthony Rizzo will have no such initiation rites applied for him when he dons his No. 48 jersey early Monday — the pinstriped version, the baseball version of being handed a sacred vestment — and walks onto the field at Yankee Stadium for the first time. He will not be forced to do the baseball equivalent of a keg stand, or a four-beer funnel. He will not be led blindfolded through the quad, or be asked to guzzle a bottle of soy sauce.
No hazing for Rizzo.
This will be love at first sight, because across three weekend days and nights 1,300 miles south of the Major Deegan, Rizzo learned the first lesson in becoming a major New York heart-throb. He got off to a torrid start. And then only got hotter.
“I look forward to putting on the pinstripes and getting on the field,” he said after leaving his fingerprints all over the Yankees’ 3-1 schooling of the Marlins Sunday at loanDepot Park, finishing off a sweep in which Rizzo’s debut was more dazzling than the first six songs of Van Halen’s debut album.
“I’m excited to get to New York and play in front of the fans.”
Rizzo’s career as a Yankee starts the way “Casablanca” ends, Bogey telling the Captain, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” It started Friday and Saturday, when his first two games as a Yankee began thusly: walk, groundout, home run, single, hit-by-pitch, walk, single, home run, walk. That’s an .889 on-base percentage and a 2.889 OPS in any league.
On Sunday, as an encore, he had the game’s most essential hit, a one-out scorcher the other way in the eighth to tie a game in which the Yankees had been mostly manhandled. Miami, which must not have access to fancy data reports and stuff, had brought in lefty Richard Bleier to face Rizzo, even though Rizzo was hitting .348 against lefties this year.
Then in the bottom of the inning, Rizzo showed off his gold glove, starting and ending a slick 3-6-3 double play against the speedy Jazz Chisholm that effectively snuffed out the Marlins’ final flickering hops.
All in all?
A nice place to start. And now he gets to go home after a weekend like that, a weekend Yankees fans had given up finding in any of the regulars who’d limped and labored through the season’s first hundred or so games. Maybe Yankees fans would’ve been happy to see Rizzo even if he’d gone 1-for-13 with three errors this weekend.
Now he’ll be greeted like the Beatles at JFK in ’64.
“I think it’s his makeup,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of what’s allowed Rizzo to fit in so well and so quickly with his new mates (beyond the flames presently shooting out of his bat, that is). “If you surveyed around the league they talk him up as a special teammate and a great leader easygoing, easy to connect with. He’s cut out for this.”
Said Brett Gardner: “We know what he’s capable of doing, the energy he brings, and that he’s been playing for a really good team for a really long time. He knows what it takes to get where we want to go, keeps coming up with big hit after big hit for us.”
They loved him at Wrigley Field — so much so that a large contingent of fans waited long after his final game as a Cub was over to bid him a loud, emotional farewell outside the park. They will love him at Yankee Stadium. He would never put it this way, but another key import from another time did (and it’s worth noting that Rizzo is 48 and not 44 because 44 will forever be that former star’s number), and so we can transfer it to Rizzo:
He isn’t coming to New York to be a star. He’s bringing his star with him.