MESA, Ariz. -- With less than two weeks before the start of the 2016 regular season, the unquestioned leader of the Chicago Cubs is primed for another big year. Anthony Rizzo finished fourth in the National League MVP voting last season, one year after finishing 10th. The 26-year-old first baseman just keeps getting better and now is on a team picked by many to go to the World Series. He sat down recently for a preseason question-and-answer session.
ESPN: I’ve seen teams this spring play you differently, in terms of the shift. Some are shifting much more than others. Do you think you’ve shown them enough to keep opponents honest?
Anthony Rizzo: If you look at the numbers and the spray charts, probably not. It’s just one of those things. If I hit the ball on the ground, it’s usually to the right side, so the goal [laughing] is not to hit the ball on the ground. It’s [shifting] there. I’m kind of over it -- over getting mad or upset with it.
ESPN: If you were instructing someone else on beating the shift, what would you tell them?
AR: I don’t know. Drop a few bunts down? Teams get pissed off when big guys do that. It’s a free base. I’ve done that the last couple of years, and I will again this year. If they give it to me, and I can put one down, I’ll do it.
ESPN: Cubs manager Joe Maddon has put out a regular-season lineup a few times this spring, and we’ve seen the whole "keep the line moving" thing, where not just one guy is carrying the team. That must get you excited.
AR: Oh, yeah. It’s fun. We feed off each other. That’s what’s so great. We’re all in the box at the same time. When Dexter Fowler is up, I feel like I’m up with him, and when I’m up, I feel like everyone is up with me. It’s a good feeling because there is no one here that is selfish and trying to hit the six-run home run. It’s about getting on for the next guy, and so on. And then someone is going to do it -- going to drive in the runs.
ESPN: You always talk team. Give me one personal goal.
AR: How about World Series MVP?
ESPN: I see what you did there. Sounds good. Let’s talk about off the field. It seems like you feed off your charity work, that it’s not just something you do -- it’s part of who you are or who you’ve become since your illness.
AR: It brings you back down too. Every year I get further out from what I went through [a battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma]. I wouldn’t say I ever forget it, but I would say it’s not as fresh, so when I go to these hospitals and do these things we’re doing with our foundation, it’s what it’s all about. I love baseball, I love playing, but I love helping people out. I’ve seen my parents when I was sick and what they went through. To help families and the patient at the same time, it's great.
ESPN: What is it like being in this sort of celebrity bubble you’re now in with this team? And you in particular, with what you’ve accomplished these past few years?
AR: Well, you try to be nice to everyone, but it’s hard to accommodate everyone. Everyone wants a picture, everyone wants to say hello. You respect that because it’s a cool moment. I remember when I was young and saw an athlete out -- I try to always remember that. I enjoy it. It won’t always be there. I feel like the fans can relate to this team because we’re personable with them.
ESPN: Let’s talk about your teammates. Does Kris Bryant have any vice, or is he really the All-American kid we see? Video games? Anything?
AR: He’s a great kid, and he’s come a long way from last year to this one. He knows he’s a big leaguer and acts like it. He acts like he belongs. As far as a vice, I don’t know. If he does, he’s good at it. He’s good at everything.
ESPN: How about the run he’s on? He has gone from college player of the year to minor league player of the year to National League rookie of the year.
AR: He’s got one more accolade to win.
ESPN: You wouldn’t put it past him, would you?
AR: Heck, no. MVP or Silver Slugger or Gold Glove -- one of those.
ESPN: A lot of people see Addison Russell as a player ready to break out after a great camp here. You’ve said so yourself. Why?
AR: He’s my favorite player to watch. Just everything he does: the way he moves, the way he handles himself, everything. He’s in a perfect situation to hit lower in the lineup and just go out and play and not worry about anything. Like all of us -- there’s no pressure on any individual. It’s a group thing.
ESPN: After a year with Joe Maddon, could you imagine a better fit for manager of this team for this moment?
AR: No, especially with the city and everything that’s happened before any of us were born and all that stuff. He knows how to handle it. Joe loves it. He’s in a great place here, and we’re better because he’s here.
ESPN: Will the memory of losing to the Mets in the National League Championship Series feed you all season? Will it motivate you?
AR: No, the memory of beating the Pirates and Cardinals will feed us. We want to remember the good and feel it again.