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Barry Zito's Biggest Win Rooted in Surrender

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Growing up, Barry’s dad, Joe, was a talent manager who at one point was the bandleader for Nat King Cole. His mom pastored and cofounded a new age church. Joe could see early on that Barry was gifted at baseball. His grip on the curveball was unique. Most pitchers clamped down on it with their middle finger, but Barry used his index finger. Every day of the year, except sick days and holidays, Joe would spend two hours with Barry practicing his pitching. “Dad spared no expense or energy to get the best of whatever I needed to improve at baseball,” recalls Barry. At a young age, Barry’s identity as a person was fused with his identity as a baseball player. Joe unknowingly cemented into Barry’s brain that he was only worthy of love and acceptance when he performed well on the mound. His self worth became directly connected to his pitching performance. The talent manager side of Joe somehow along the way lost sight of where he ended and where Barry began. Barry’s career became Joe’s career too.

In high school, as an escape from the pressure of sports, Barry began doing drugs. He smoked pot for the first time when he was fourteen and then progressed to LSD, mushrooms, cocaine, and even crystal meth.  He craved freedom outside his disciplined baseball life and began to hang out with the wrong crowd.

Although his parents tried to keep him off drugs, Barry continued chasing the wrong things. He began stealing and vandalizing to fit in with what he considered the cool crowd. The spiritual belief (taught to him by his mother and grandmother) that he was ultimately responsible for his own success and happiness began to drive his ego.  His senior year of high school Joe figured out a way to separate Barry from the drug issues. He sent Barry to a Catholic school to be a part of their competitive baseball team. His plan worked. Barry stopped the drugs, partying, and running with the wrong crowd. In 1996, after graduation, Barry began his baseball career at the University of California in Santa Barbara. Although he performed well in baseball and had good friends his dad felt Santa Barbara wasn’t serving his career goals and eventually talked him into transferring to Pierce Junior College in L.A. It was in L.A. that the scouts came out in large groups to see Barry on the mound. At twenty years old, his name was called in the draft by the Texas Rangers. His dad ran the negotiations but could not agree on the money offered, so Barry did not sign that year. In 1999, he transferred to the University of Southern California (USC). During this time his mom became ill and was on the liver transplant list. When the pro draft came around again Barry was selected with the ninth pick by the Oakland A’s. They offered him $1.59 million as a signing bonus. All his dad’s years of planning and predictions had materialized. With some of the money Barry received from the signing bonus he was happy to help his parents, who had struggled financially for many years, pay off all their debt and then buy his dream car.

In July of 2000 Barry was called up to the big leagues. He began to be aware of his importance and quickly got into a reckless pattern of behavior. Sex, partying, and TV attention would be his lifestyle for years.  “I slowly started losing touch with the real world. I was living in a fantasy where people were chanting my name on the field, and girls were fighting for my attention off the field,” recalls Barry.

In 2002 at twenty-four years old Barry was awarded the Cy Young Award (an award given to the most outstanding pitcher in each league of Major League Baseball). He was the fourth youngest player to ever win the award. The reality of baseball success was coming true for Barry and Joe. In 2007, Barry signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. It was the largest contract ever given to a pitcher at that time. He was at the top of his game.                            

Then in 2008 Barry’s baseball career began tanking. His unpredictability on the mound caused frustration and shame. During this time his parents were in poor health. One night his mom was in so much pain, she told Barry she felt hopeless. Barry, not yet a Christian, told her to give it up to God and let Him take it all. The next morning his mother said, “I had the best night’s sleep ever. I gave it all to Jesus…who ever thought after pastoring our metaphysical church my whole life I would become a Christian.” A few weeks later his mom passed away. During this time, he also met his future wife, Amber, who would prove to be a great source of strength and support in Barry’s life.

On the field, fans began turning their back on Barry’s mediocre performance.  He was left off the roster for the 2010 playoffs. After the Giants won the World Series he struggled with loneliness and depression. He called Joe to tell him his thoughts about quitting baseball and asked his father if he would still love him even if he quit baseball. A few days later his dad was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. His dad was given a 1 percent chance to live, but surprisingly he survived. Although he had to have both legs amputated, Joe was released from the hospital with a grateful and appreciative disposition. He rarely asked Barry about baseball after his near-death experience. “He became less concerned about what I was doing and more concerned with how I was doing,” shares Barry.

In 2011, things were not looking up for Barry. He had a car accident and suffered a foot injury that would set him back two to three months. He had been searching for answers from self-help books and even a spiritual counselor. One day, Amber handed him a Bible and told him that this book was what he needed. Interestingly, Barry had started attending the team’s Bible studies and asking the team chaplain questions about Christianity. He was so desperate for answers he began reading the Bible. After a few weeks Barry said the prayer of salvation and accepted Christ as his Savior. Immediately he felt a change in himself. “After the many years of doing all I could to find something real, now Someone had come to me and taken over my life,” shares Barry. He knew that he had found the answer for his life. He proposed to Amber and they married in 2012.

After Barry’s ankle healed, he returned to the team. This time he stayed in God’s Word and focused on honoring God’s gift by doing the best he could on the mound.  His best year as a Giant was in 2012. He won fifteen games, lost eight and posted a 4.15 ERA. Barry was an integral part of his team going to the playoffs and winning the World Series. The fans and team were supportive of Barry once again. “Experiencing success without shouldering the weight of all the credit and instead giving it to Him was such a liberating paradigm shift,” shares Barry. In the summer of 2013, Barry called Joe to see what he thought about him retiring. Surprisingly, his dad gave him his blessing to do what he wanted. A few weeks later, on June 19, 2013 Joe died. A few weeks before he died, Joe gave his life to Jesus.

After fifteen seasons in the Major Leagues Barry retired in 2015. Since then he has been focused on his second career as a songwriter and musician. Together he and Amber have two children.

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