Rizzo leaves for World Baseball Classic Monday

RizzoIllo

(Illustration by Jerry Neumann)

Patriotism is nothing new for athletes.

Take the pregame ceremonies of the Super Bowl. People were so sure Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was going to shed a tear during the national anthem, Vegas bookmakers threw up prop bets on it (he didn’t).

This month, baseball players from around the globe will demonstrate their national pride when they represent their countries in the third edition of the International Baseball Federation’s World Baseball Classic.

The first WBC in 2006 was a cultural hit, pitting nations against each other in baseball’s version of soccer’s World Cup. Though no member of the Cubs was selected to manager Joe Torre’s U.S. squad for 2013, first baseman Anthony Rizzo will be playing for Italy.

“I’d love to play for [the U.S.]. That was my first choice, but they have all the ‘mon-stars’ on there,” Rizzo said during the Cubs Caravan. “Italy is a great opportunity. I come from a strong Italian background.”

Rizzo was selected because his great-grandfather hails from Sicily. Former Cub Tony Campana also wanted to play for the Italian squad, but was unable to produce a birth certificate from his grandparents.

“I think it’s great that guys want to represent where they’ve come from,” said Brandon Hyde, the Cubs’ director of player development. “They take a  lot of pride in that.”

Former Cubs Michael Barrett, Derrek Lee, Henry Blanco and Carlos Zambrano competed in the first Classic, while Kosuke Fukudome, Ted Lilly, Carlos Marmol and Geovany Soto represented their home countries in 2009.

WBC action starts March 2, with the finals taking place March 19 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Team Italy, which is in Pool D, doesn’t get underway until March 7 versus Mexico. Rizzo won’t have to travel far, as Pool D plays in Phoenix, Ariz. Team Italy will play Team USA March 9 at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field.

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