In every unironic way imaginable I am a Barry Zito apologist. The possibility of a Hudson/Zito reunion/match-up in Oakland next Saturday (9/26) for me is orbiting somewhere in the same solar system as being invited to the closed-door Creed/Balboa bout or standing next to Fredo in that weird Cuban sex club and discovering he’s the worst brother ever or being on set when Montalban invented the term Corinthian Leather.
I feel Barry Zito. Every ounce.
Barry Zito is listening to Outkast next to your buddies with a three-beer buzz playing Tecmo Super Bowl getting ready to go out. Barry Zito is the point in the road trip when you’ve just topped off with gas, have a 100 miles to go, Haddaway comes on the radio, a full Cherry Coke slushee in one hand and a bag of Chex Mix in the other and your hosts for the evening just inbounded with a picture of three bottles of wine on the counter and smoke coming from a barbecue in the background saying hurry up and get here. Barry Zito is the tingly tingle of anticipation in my hands upon hotel check-in when I ask where the pool is and the desk person in the jacket and gold name tag obliges with their cute little pen drawing a line through the maze on their cute little map. Barry Zito is being the first in line at Starbucks on a Saturday, clipping into brand-new bindings, flopping on the couch after an afternoon spent cleaning toilets and discovering Tootsie just started on Epix and getting an email saying your work’s anniversary dinner cruise just got put on wind hold.
I thought my Barry Zito love was snuffed out for good like blonde extras in Nicholas Cage thrillers with this on closing day 2013: Mark Kotsay, a teammate of Zito’s in Oakland who faced his friend in his last major league at-bat, ended his career with a K: “If I had to strike out in my final at-bat, I’m glad it was against a former teammate whom I respect and love. I’m happy for Barry. It was a special moment for both of us. I texted him and he responded. He said, ‘Man, that was gnarlier than the World Series. I love you my brother. I have so much respect for you. I love that it was us together out there. See you soon.’”
It was over and at that moment I recalled standing on the edges of an interview with Zito after his first start in Scottsdale in a Giants uniform. He had a MTV-Unplugged-Kurt Cobain-green cardigan on and resembled every Bachelorette contestant kicked off after the Fantasy Suite episode. He was genteel and respectful to the Bay Area media guys who were equal parts ready to anoint and crucify him. They asked about his breaking ball and his contract and his arm strength and his mechanics and his hitting but really, he just wanted to talk about music and lit up when one of the Japanese media guys asked whether he added any new axes to his quiver in the offseason.
This 2015 campaign is on Advil and ice for both your Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants. The prior would be host to the worst record in the league and powered down sometime in mid-March after shipping the would-be AL MVP to redefine the hot corner north of the border. The Giants scrapped like former champs do, but this week they officially shut down the seasons of Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence, otherwise known as the team’s ventricles and aorta. In their place, the call-ups and a look at what could be: one Mac Williamson—whose name sounds like a guy batting clean-up on your Bases Loaded team—who was literally gone fishin’ when called up the club Thursday. Trevor Brown, an outfielder with pop, who will ease the pain of Gregor Blanco (concussion) and Brandon Belt (knee to the head) as they check on VRBO from the dugout. Shoo-in for the 2015 NL MVP runner-up, Buster Posey will end the franchise’s injury-addled dynastic hangover at first—but he’s about the only opening day starter left on Bochy’s lineup card for the season’s final fortnight.
The perennial free-dealing and free-falling A’s bumped Zito up to their MLB roster this week after the legendary southpaw showed up and worked in Music City for an entire AAA season with nothing but one goal in mind (more on that in a second).
Zito, who has had the same type of mixed quasi-retirement as the Foo Fighters (<– Give it up to Barry Zito, he’s not going to loll around Moscone Center or the Bill Graham Civic in a fucking lanyard mugging for Salesforce dipshits and being their #lifehack celeb selfie puppet…) doesn’t yet want to spend his days strumming his acoustic and wondering whether it’s too early to queue up for a buzzing pager at PF Changs. Or maybe he still needs a little pocket change after being the only man on this scorched coast to lose money in Bay Area real estate in 2015.
Either way, Zito had other plans. Instead of waiting for that AARP digest to show up in his mail box he said, eff it, I’m going to grow my hair out like Kenny Powers and pitch.
The 37-year-old was 8-7 at Nashville with a 3.46 ERA; improving with a 2.89 ERA after the All-Star break. Opponents hit .234 against him this year and after a truncated start Aug. 6, he packed it in for the last month with shoulder tendinitis.
He was told he wouldn’t be up with the club this year.
Even then, Barry Zito didn’t quit. And now he’s coming home: “This is where I started,” he said this week referring to the fact that he gets to pitch in one of the handful of stadiums left with trough urinals. “That mound in Oakland is where I threw my first major-league pitch, and I don’t know how it’s all going to shake out with the rotation, days and all that, but I’m going to throw one of my last major-league pitches probably on that mound.
“That’s like storybook, it’s amazing.”
See: One goal in mind.
You and me and him and everyone else get to fade into oblivion a little bit every sunset. We’re all little cellular modules and we shed a little bit of that dream daily as we wind like a tornado in slo mo toward our eventual place in the ground. Is there a metaphysical or physical reason for me to like Zito? Perhaps. Maybe it’s the friction he eschews the positive ions he exudes. Maybe it’s the fact that he tells the last guy he strikes out he loves him.
It doesn’t really matter. It’s a game. It’s a boy’s game. Barry Zito has already given himself over to the fact that he’s old and his time in the game has passed and he’s doing this for some kind of love and respect he didn’t think he thought he had. He’s humble and is ready to be more humbled. He has already been living with—accepted—unconsciously perhaps, his mortality as a construct relating to chalk lines and a ball of string wrapped in leather. That he’s replaceable that the world spins whether his stuff falls off the shelf or not. He’s a husband, a father, secure in his faith and possibly regretting whatever it was he was doing that made him come out the gate 0–4 with a 6.60 ERA and dyed blue hair in 2005. But here he is, winsome and encouraged. It’s not about age or ability or passion. It’s simply about having this one idea and sticking to it. It’s about finishing what you start.
Barry Zito should have quit, but he didn’t. Somewhere in Santa Barbara or Los Angeles or Oakland or San Francisco…or even in Nashville, he learned this: the moment people tell you to give up is the moment you shouldn’t.