In the 1970's, a Simon and Garfunkel musical hit asked the question, "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?" With exception of San Francisco Giants fans, the national audience was asking, "Where have you gone Barry Zito?"
That question was dramatically answered twice this year. First in the NLDS and then again in the NLCS. Barry had a pretty good season. He won 15 games! In fact, the Giants with Barry pitching won 14 straight regular season games. Self-effacing, he has never wanted the spotlight on himself. Even in the bad years, he kept his cool working to revive his game.
His once over-powering 90 mph fastball was reduced to the low 80's. But the most difficult thing that happened to this 2002 Cy Young Award winner was when manager Bruce Bochy left him off the 2010 postseason roster.
It was his darkest moment in Baseball. He had never been considered a loser. After all, in high school he had been all-league. At UC Santa Barbara, he earned Freshman All-America Honors. He transferred to Pierce College where he was named to the all-state and all-conference teams. At USC, he was a first-team All-American as well as Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year.
When Bochy left him off the 2010 roster, he did not sulk. He did not pout. Instead, he immediately got down to the business of restructuring his game. He went to the Bullpen working hard during every game, in case Bochy called. He would be ready! The call never came. This demotion motivated him. It hurt deeply, although he never said it.
He realized that if he was going to return to form, he had to re-invent himself. So okay, if he no longer had a blazing fastball, he would try different pitches... and he did. The fastball was replaced by an array of sliders, curves and pin-point control.
In fact, this year, while 2-time Cy Young Winner Tim Lincecum was having a tough time, the older, craftier Zito was there to support and work with him. As a result, it seemed only natural that it was Tim that Bochy brought in to relieve Barry in the fifth inning. For only the second time in Postseason Baseball history, one Cy Young winner replaced another.
Talking about his achievements in Baseball is fine. However in life, Barry is an even a bigger hero.
I became truly acquainted with Barry when I was a principal of the 7 Star Production Company. In this capacity, we worked to create events for his "Strikeouts for Troops" organization. Now, most of you do not know what "Strikeouts for Troops" is all about.
Before so many organizations of late began jumping on the politically correct bandwagon, Barry very quietly was raising money to help our returning troops in numerous ways.
In 2005. He started donating $400 to the cause from every Strikeout he pitched. To date, "Strikeout for Troops" has raised over 2 million dollars through over 60 professional ballplayers, fund raising events, fan donations and corporate donations. Barry remains involved with every facet.
The "Strikeout for Troops" fund has brought about a variety of solutions. Among them... keeping loved ones near during difficult times, providing individual grants for immediate needs, paid for flights and lodging, purchased adaptive equipment for easy transition at home and funded the Gold Star Family Support Center at Fort Hood.
It doesn't end there. "Strikeouts for Troops" strives to help injured troops and their families in any way possible.
Barry is not alone in Baseball. All-Stars such as Alex Rodriquez, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, C C Sabathia, the aforementioned Lincecum have joined the "Strikeouts for Troops" organization.
Six years ago, it was only Barry contributing from his Strikeouts. Today, Singles, Double, Triples, Homeruns and even Stolen Bases add to its total.
As you can see, no matter who wins the World Series, Barry Zito is a winner in life.