PHOTOS BY KIRSTEN MICCOLI
You might think it would be easy for Anthony Rizzo — the handsome, World Series-winning Chicago Cubs first baseman — to get any girl he wants, but Emily Vakos was a tough sell.
The two met in Arizona in early 2016: Rizzo was there for spring training and Vakos was in her last year at Arizona State and interning for the Cubs’ nutrition team. Rizzo immediately took a liking to her, but Vakos wasn’t interested. (The 23-year-old Dallas native is lovely, down-to-earth … and utterly impervious to celebrity.) Determined to throw him off, she gave him a fake phone number, but he called her out when his text came back invalid.
“I was relentless in my pursuit of her,” Rizzo laughs now. He asked her to dinner, “but lunch was the compromise, to keep it more professional. One lunch led to a text that said, ‘Sorry, maybe once the internship is over we can hang out, but not now.’ ”
Eventually, though, Vakos caved, “and the rest is history,” she says. Fast forward just a short year and a half later, and the couple is living together in a River North high-rise — Vakos got her real-estate license earlier this year — and planning a wedding for 2018.
It was in late March that Rizzo, 27, first decided he wanted to marry her — but just like asking her out, it wasn’t as simple as that. His June 1 proposal came with quite a bit of planning. “There would be times Emily didn’t come to the game and I told her I hit traffic coming home, but really I was at the jewelry store looking [for a ring],” Rizzo says.
Rizzo planned a fake magazine photo shoot for Vakos and himself on the lake, and enlisted his agent Marc to help execute the scheme. The phony setup was crucial for a couple of reasons: to get the proposal on camera, and to convince Vakos to dress up.
“I’m a very jeans-and-T-shirt girl, especially if I’m going on a boat,” she says. “So a lot of [people ask] how did he get you so done up — in a dress, hair and makeup done? It’s because I thought we were going to [a photo shoot]! … He thought out every detail.”
The couple was posing for their last look at the back of the boat, the sun setting behind the skyline, when Vakos turned toward Rizzo and saw him pulling the ring from his pocket. “I thought it was a prank,” she laughs. “We hadn’t even talked about rings … I didn’t expect it at all.” He opened the box to reveal a gorgeous radiant cut diamond with dual baguettes; after she said yes, fireworks erupted in the sky behind them — and the whole city got to be a part of their celebration.
It’s fitting, as the city and its residents are practically a third wheel to Rizzo and Vakos’ relationship. As one of Chicago’s most beloved athletes — and especially since that curse-breaking win last fall — Rizzo’s fans are everywhere. He’s the longest-tenured Cub on the team and an old pro at dealing with press and fans, but it’s a whole new world for Vakos. “I can’t go grocery shopping with him,” she says. “I’ll be picking out bananas and then I’ll find him doing a photo shoot with the entire Whole Foods.”
“We do as many normal things as possible,” says Rizzo, adding one caveat: There is a lot of planning and coordination with restaurants or destinations in advance. “The fans in Chicago are so amazing. We walk into places and the next thing you know we’re saying hello and taking pictures. It’s great to do that, but [sometimes we’re just] trying to go on a date.” Vakos is coming around to it, however — “She’s gaining a sixth sense about [noticing people taking pictures],” Rizzo says — and just in time: We expect it won’t be long before she’s got a fan base all her own.
We quizzed Rizzo and Vakos on each other’s favorite things to see well they really know each other.
SPLASH: Besides the Cubs, what is Emily’s favorite sports team?
ANTHONY RIZZO: Oh dear. I’m gonna go with the New York Rangers.
EMILY VAKOS: No. I mean if we’re doing hockey, Dallas Stars.
AR: Stars. Your dad’s is the Rangers.
S: Emily, what is Anthony’s?
EV: Ding! One for me!
S: What is Emily’s favorite movie?
AR: Umm … “Harry Potter”?
EV: No! “Harry Potter”! Hm, what is my favorite movie … ?
AR: See, we’ve never talked about it.
EV: Do I have to answer that one? Can we just note it as he got it wrong? His is “A Bronx Tale.”
S: What is her favorite food?
EV: Are we talking about an item or a [cuisine]?
AR: You’ve said that Chinese food is your favorite food before.
EV: Yeah, probably Chinese food.
S: What about his?
EV: Taco bell.
S: What is Emily’s favorite song or band?
AR: You know my favorite.
EV: I’m blowing you out of the water! His favorite band is Coldplay.
AR: Yeah. Her favorite song is … can I look it up real quick?
EV: Sing it.
AR: I can’t or I would!
EV: How’s it go?
AR: I’m seriously blanking so hard right now. Spring training two years ago, the song we always played, with the piano. Come on, you gotta help me.
EV: Is it “Sweet Lovin’ ”?
AR: “Sweet Lovin’ ”!
EV: Yeah, “Sweet Lovin’.”
Shot on location at Sixteen at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago