Former Baseball All-Star Barry Zito Finds New Identity Off the Field
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Pitching defined Barry Zito and by the time he was amongst baseball’s elite as a Cy Young Award winner, he was quick to credit his work ethic and perseverance. In fact, to suggest that his rise to the top was anything other than his own determination was an insult.
“I remember one time in 2003,” says Barry. “I was in the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia and it was after a game and a woman came up to me and she said, ‘wow, you have such incredible pitching talent and this curve ball you throw…and all these things and you just really got blessed. You are so blessed with such talent.’ And I literally got upset with her. And I said, ‘blessed? Do you know how hard I’ve been working since I was 7? I’ve earned this.’”
Off the field, Barry enjoyed the spoils that came with worldly success. It completed his identity as baseball star and Hollywood playboy.
“I identified with success in nightlife or in that Hollywood scene as a part of, again, my identification of self, my value as a person,” says Barry. “And it almost became an extension of success on the field.”
But in 2007 when Barry achieved the most lucrative contract for a pitcher in baseball history at the time, he didn’t plan on his career taking a down swing. His mounting losses weren’t meeting expectations and fans turned on him.
“I couldn’t sleep at night,” says Barry. “I would be up in the middle of the night googleing things like, ‘self confidence,’ how do I feel that? 2008 was kinda the worst of all that. I started out 0-8. I got taken out of the rotation. The newspapers and TV people were saying terrible things. I remember I would go into restaurants at night and fans would be on the other side of the bar and they would be yelling like expletives with my name. So, I took it very hard and those were some really dark years.”
Unfortunately, bigger disappointments were to come. When the Giants advanced to the World Series in 2010, Barry was left off the post-season roster because of his unreliability on the mound.
“So I watched, essentially the team that I was brought over to help win a world series, I watched them win it and I couldn’t participate and it was like the heaviest thing I had ever been through in my life,” remembers Barry.
Barry was becoming distant and detached. His girlfriend Amber had a front row seat to his struggle.
“2010 was a really dark year for him,” says Amber. “And I feel like there were days I would look into his eyes and be like, ‘are you in there?’”
Barry tried to clear his head, but the following year brought even more challenges…a car accident and a quirky foot injury that sidelined him for three months. Barry was anxious, afraid and desperate to make sense of it all.
“I had all these books,” says Barry. “My bookshelf at the time was probably the entire Barnes & Noble self-help catalogue.”
“I think you can tell a lot about a person from their library,” says Amber. “And the more I spent time with him the more I realized, ‘what’s going on here?’”
Barry remembers, “I was reading different books and I was with amber, and she just said, ‘honey…’
“You’re searching for something and I promise you, you will not find it in these books,” says Amber. “I’m like, ‘I would like to offer you one book.’ and I’m like, ‘I promise you, you’re gonna get an answer.’”
“And that was the Bible,” says Barry. “And so I had started to read the Bible consistently and we just started reading Proverbs every night.”
Barry was done seeking answers from within himself. Being defined by accomplishments had backfired. Desperate for a new identity, Barry went to talk to the team chaplain.
Barry remembers saying, “‘I need help man. I cannot do this. I’ve gone to therapists. I’ve read self help books. I’ve relied on my own strength as much as I can. I’ve exhausted all of my possibilities.’ and I said, ‘I think I’m ready to trust someone else, something else besides what I can muster.’”
Barry prayed to give his life to Jesus.
“In my coming to Jesus moment, I had really amazing kind of feelings inside like I had this new identity,” says Barry. “And I knew Jesus was on my shoulder saying, ‘hey, I’m the guy.’”
In 2012 Barry returned with flashes of brilliance that helped lead the Giants to another World Series championship, this time with Barry at the helm and God in his heart.
“The last two months of the season I was getting on a roll,” remembers Barry. “And I had some great games in the playoffs and got to contribute in the World Series and pitch game 1 in the World Series, won that game. And the entire experience was about God, it was not about me.”
As Barry retires from his baseball career, he’s found peace and purpose in life. Now married to Amber, they’re enjoying parenthood for the first time, never losing sight of the new life they have discovered in Christ.
“There are times when I can feel alone, even now,” says Barry. “And I realize it’s because I get caught up in my own neurosis of my humanness. And when I step back and say, ‘hold on. I’m not alone at all. I’m a whole complete person because my life is in Jesus Christ.’”
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