Rizzo enjoys time with kids at Play Ball event

Cubs first baseman meets 7-year-old set to throw ceremonial first pitch in Series

Rizzo enjoys time with kids at Play Ball event

HOUSTON -- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo threw plastic balls to boys and girls at the plate. He whiffed at balls thrown by Hailey Dawson, the Nevada girl who will throw the ceremonial first pitch for Saturday's Game 4 of the World Series, using her custom-made gold World Series hand.

The Play Ball event that took place at the Astros Youth Academy on Saturday morning was a fitting place to be for Rizzo, the day after he received the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award from Major League Baseball.

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Now in his second day of being actively involved with MLB in this 113th World Series between the Dodgers and Astros, there was definitely a part of Rizzo that missed it. It was just a year ago that he caught the 5-3 assist fired by Kris Bryant in Game 7 in Cleveland, completing a longtime dream for the Cubs.

"It was weird being at a baseball game yesterday in a suit," Rizzo said, referring to the Clemente Award ceremony at Minute Maid Park before Game 3. "You know, it's where you want to be. It's the stage you want to be on. All eyes are on the Dodgers and the Astros, and it's fun. It's fun for them and it's where you want to be."

Close your eyes and you can still picture Rizzo leaning against David Ross in the Cubs' dugout during that gut-wrenching Game 7 clincher, both looking for something deep inside to eliminate the Indians and pull out a World Series championship.

Rizzo was asked what he thinks the Dodgers and Astros are going through now.

"It's a roller coaster," he said. "You live and die on every pitch. It's fun, though. These are times that you're going to look back on in 10 years and enjoy them. You've got to enjoy them as much as you can. There's so much outside noise, with the media coverage, and families coming, and getting tickets ready. But once you get in that clubhouse, the guys are all there for the guys. That's the biggest part -- just leaning on each other."

Rizzo and the Cubs were knocked out by the Dodgers in five games after making it to their third consecutive National League Championship Series. Having just played deep into October and knowing these teams, what does Rizzo see as a key to the rest of the Fall Classic?

"It's going to be who gets the big hit in the big situation, for me," he said. "Both teams have good pitching, good hitters. Whoever gets the big hit in the big spot is going to win it all."

One of the most beautiful moments at the Play Ball event was seeing Rizzo interacting with Dawson. The inspirational 7-year-old was born with Poland Syndrome, a birth defect that left her without three fingers on her right hand. She uses a 3-D printed hand constructed by University of Nevada-Las Vegas engineers to throw a baseball, and she wants to throw out a first pitch in every MLB park. She introduced her special World Series hand at the Play Ball event, and Rizzo knelt down and signed it for her while she was wearing it.

Rizzo practiced the first pitch with her. She rolled a few pitches his way, and he gave a few swings and misses, leaving her with a bashful smile. It warmed his heart. He spoke with her parents.

What advice did Rizzo give Hailey?

"Have fun, take a deep breath," he said. "This is really cool for her, I got to play catch with her. What an inspiration. She's not going to let any disability or disease stop her. It's really cool that Major League Baseball is recognizing her and letting her throw out the first pitch."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.