By Bruce Levine--
CHICAGO (CBS) -- If you love stats (and who doesn't these days?), you will like the numbers that Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has been putting up on the stat sheet the first three weeks of the season. Rizzo has many new admirers watching him grow as a budding star. He led all of baseball with an astounding .494 on-base percentage going into play Tuesday. He had been on base 32 times in his previous 60 at-bats as part of his overall solid play.
At 25, Rizzo is the heart and soul of this young, evolving Cubs team.
"We have a lot of young guys trying to make their way," Rizzo said when asked about being a leader. "I am still trying to make my way. The talent coming here is unbelievable. We just have to keep getting better. It's cliché, but it's really the reason we all play."
Rizzo's game and approach to his offseason conditioning program have seemed to go hand in hand with his improved play each season. 2014 marked his first 30-home run season and first All-Star appearance. Although he has used a trainer for seven years, Rizzo intensified his workouts this past winter.
"Sure I did," Rizzo said. "That is what the offseasons are for. I did the two-a-day workouts and the cross training to get ready for the long season we have. It's certainly a process that you learn more about as you play at this level. It is a grind every day, but I love it."
A Miami native, the friendly Rizzo has found a home in Chicago and become a fan and front office favorite as well.
"We have had a lot of quality people here," team chairman Tom Ricketts said. "I can honestly tell you no one has been more personable or involved in the community than Anthony Rizzo."
Watching Rizzo in 2014, you sense a desire to lead this club, with the best hustle, determination and overall grit he has in him. He had five stolen bases in the team's first 18 games. Rizzo had 16 career stolen bases coming into the season. He also has been hit by a pitch six times, leading the league, refusing to back off of the plate and give up the inside corner to the opposing pitcher.
"I am very comfortable taking a base when I can get it," he said. "Instincts tell me what to do, and as you grow in the game, you trust those things more and more. A lot has to do with being more aggressive, because (manager Joe Maddon) wants us to push things on the base paths. Overall this year I feel quicker, that was one of my goals."
Having veteran leaders and winning players brought in by management to help lead the team has allowed Rizzo the luxury of not having to be team spokesman for every win and loss. The Cubs are off to an 11-7 start entering Tuesday night's game against the Pirates.
"I appreciate the fact they have brought in winning veterans," he said. "They are here after having won elsewhere and have been through the grind every day. World Series players like (Jon) Lester, (Jason) Motte, (David) Ross, (Phil) Coke, we constantly can pick their brains and learn from them. I take it and pass it on to the other young guys."
Having played on losing teams the past three seasons has been a test for Rizzo. The resolve to feel like a winner in a world of hopeless situations was difficult to process at times.
"It was tough," he said. "Hopefully the entire mindset for the fan base and this organization has changed now. I believe it's a new direction where it has not been in a long time. We are all about winning now, that is the only thing we care about."
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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