Chicago Cubs All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo is the winner of the 2014 Branch Rickey award in recognition of his community work with pediatric cancer patients.
At 25, he’s the youngest person to receive the award — 4-1/2 months younger than last year’s winner, Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw.
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Created by the Rotary Club of Denver in 1991, the Branch Rickey Award honors individuals in baseball who contribute to their communities and are strong role models for young people.
Each year, major league teams nominate a player, coach or executive, either active or retired, for the award. The award is named in honor of the late baseball executive known for creating the framework for the modern minor league farm system and for breaking baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the major leagues. He also hired the first Latino player, Roberto Clemente.
”It’s awesome. It really is,” Rizzo said. ”What he did, obviously with Jackie Robinson, it’s pretty special to win the award. To be recognized for something like that, it’s special for me and my family.”
In 2007, at the age of 17, Rizzo was drafted by the Boston Red Sox after graduating from high school in Parkland, Florida. During his first season in the minor leagues, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After months of chemotherapy, his cancer went into remission.
Since then, he’s made regular visits to pediatric cancer patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida.
The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation was founded in 2012 to raise money for cancer research and provide support for children and families fighting the disease. The foundation has held two ”Walk Offs for Cancer” and two ”Cook Offs for Cancer,” raising more than $500,000 altogether. The third annual ”Walk Off for Cancer” will be held on Nov. 16 in Parkland, Florida.
Rizzo joined the Cubs at midseason in 2012 and became the first Cubs player to collect three game-winning hits in his first five games.