Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo ready to face his hometown Cubs in NLDS

The Nationals went from 103 losses in 2009 to perennial contenders under general manager Mike Rizzo, a Chicago native who doesn't rattle easily.

The pressure is now on Rizzo's team to get past the Cubs in the National League Division Series, after the Nats failed three times to get past the first round under three managers he hired: Davey Johnson, Matt Williams and Dusty Baker.

Ironically, the Nats are now in the Cubs' old shoes as the team whose history gets shoved in their faces every year, most recently in a drive-by swipe by Cubs board member Todd Ricketts while visiting the White House last June with players and the coaching staff.

Ricketts turned to President Donald Trump during the meeting and made a prediction.

"We're going to run into these guys in the playoffs and you'll come down and you'll see them crumble," he said.

The first part of Ricketts' prediction came to fruition. Soon we will see if the second part plays out.

Though most in the Nats' clubhouse are aware of the shot, Rizzo doesn't believe it will serve as motivation.

"The owners don't play, the GM's don't play, the players play," Rizzo said. "They usually dictate the outcomes of this game, and that's what we're looking into.

"If you need extra motivation to play these games, then you shouldn't be here."

Baker also shrugged off the remark, pointing to Ricketts' nonathletic background.

"That don't bother me, you know why? He's probably never played," Baker said. "Maybe we should just let the ownership play. I'd like to see that game. Not much worries me now."

Not much worries Rizzo either. He took the long route to big-league success, from driving thousands of miles as an area scout for the White Sox to rebuilding the Nats almost from scratch.

Rizzo, 56, grew up a Cubs fan on the 6200 block of West Waveland Ave., attending Holy Cross High School in River Grove and getting drafted by the Angels out of St. Xavier University in the 22nd round of the 1982 draft.

"I have great memories of Wrigley and used to go to a lot of games when we were kids," he said. "And Joe (Maddon) was my manager when I was in the minor leagues, so we have a history with him."

Maddon recalled Rizzo's first season with Class-A Salem in '82, and pointed out that Rizzo's father, longtime scout Phil Rizzo, was the partner of the scout who signed Maddon to his first contract.

"I'm the manager in Salem, and 'Rizz' started a tremendous fight we had against the Bend, Ore., Phillies," Maddon said. "A play at the plate, (players) ended up against the backstop. Rizz is right in the middle of the whole thing.

"And that's who he was. He was a gritty player. One day he played first base in Medford, Ore., and he made a couple, three or four errors, and he was not a first baseman. And I had to come to his defense after that game.

"Rizz and I go way back. There's also a really good urban legend about a player who was no longer heard from after Rizzo was released in spring training. The guy that was chosen in front of him was no longer to be found right after that.

"So the next day Rizzo was reinstated. If anyone knows where Dave Govea is living right now, please let us know."

Rizzo lasted three seasons in the minors before being released. He was visibly upset about his fate when his father sat him down for a long talk.

Phil Rizzo, now 88 and a member the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame, was a city worker for 45 years in Chicago, driving trucks for the Department of Streets and Sanitation while moonlighting as a bird-dog scout at local high schools. He could not only tell you if a player was a true prospect, but how to plow the streets during a Chicago blizzard.

Phil gave Mike a frank assessment, saying "You probably don't have the talent to play in the big leagues, but you have the talent to do something with your life."

So Mike stopped moping about the release and got on with his life. He eventually was signed as an area scout by White Sox GM Larry Himes, and began to follow in his dad's footsteps, making $11,000 and covering seven states and signing Frank Thomas, among others.

Working his way up, Rizzo became the Diamondbacks' director of scouting the year before they won the World Series in 2001, later moved on to the Nationals and became their GM in 2009.

All those lonely nights on the road finally paid off. Now Phil is his son's "senior advisor" and personally scouted the Cubs this year at Wrigley Field.

"My dad, my mom and the city I was born in made me who I am," Mike often says.

But the Cubs are now in his path, a significant obstacle on the road to the World Series. Rizzo has the talent and the manager he believes will get them to the promised land, and though he was happy for his Chicago friends last October, there is no love lost now between him and the Cubs.

"It was a great story last year for the city of Chicago," he said. "It was unbelievable, but obviously we have plans.

"The parade there in Chicago was great. We'd like to have a parade here this year in Washington, right down Pennsylvania Avenue."

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