He’d gone from the boy carefully aiming & throwing rocks at the clothespins on his mom’s wash line to a celebrated major league prospect. After a remarkably fast rise through the minor leagues, Barry Zito became a dominant starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, earning the Cy Young Award given to the best pitcher in the American League alongside multiple All Star selections.
But after signing a record-breaking contract with the cross-town San Francisco Giants after the 2006 season, success became tougher to come by on the field. And with that gone, Barry found himself in a truly painful place.
“Because I was trying to win my father’s approval since childhood in a lot of ways, I ended up trying to win the fans’ approval. If I wasn’t pitching well, I wouldn’t leave my home until I had to go to the field. Then, when I went to the park, I’d cover up in sunglasses and headphones, and try to be essentially just invisible. Because here I was, their one hundred million dollar guy that they wanted to lead them to the promised land of the World Series, and I couldn’t get anybody out.”
“So I would just try to hide – not only from everybody else, but from myself. I mean, it was misery and shame. Coming back to this huge mansion I bought in these beautiful mountains up north of San Francisco just alone and completely miserable, I was doing whatever I could to escape my self image.”
Two central turning points were on the way in Barry’s life. The first was a twelve step fellowship program that tackled co-dependency. The second was the day his wife handed him a Bible.
“So after she handed me a Bible, I started going to Bible study. The Giants had a Bible study once a week, and me and a couple other players were in it. And about three months later, I prayed a prayer with our chaplain. Something was just different. Because I had tried so many religions and spiritualities, and then I’d just move on to the next one after I had some tough times. But with Jesus it was different.”
“It was the first time I felt approved of, and loved, and validated, and all those things I searched for in the world, but without actually earning them. Without working for them. Without having to perform for them. And that was the change. I learned about grace. I learned what it meant to have something I actually didn’t deserve. And then I got to that point to see baseball for what it really was, which was a game that it was an honor to even play at that level versus something I was entitled to because I had worked so hard for it.”
Barry Zito was a Cy Young Award-winning, All Star Major League Baseball pitcher. Now he’s an author and a talented musician. His new book is “Curveball: How I Discovered True Fulfillment after Chasing Fortune & Fame.”On the Road with Barry Zito