For Barry Zito, playing guitar was just a way to pass the time on bus trips and hotel rooms in the minors. Now that he’s retired from baseball, music is the only thing he wants to do.
The former pitcher for the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants has fully transitioned from a life in baseball to a life making music (he released his first EP of six songs back in January, and it reached No. 39 on the Billboard country chart), and he talked about it in an interview with WBUR, one of Boston’s public radio stations. On the show “Only A Game,” Zito glowingly described his journey to music, and how much he’s fulfilled by his new career. Oh, and he laid down this blazing hot personal take on his post-baseball life.
“I think I’m just genuinely more in love with what I do now than I probably ever have been.”
That’s a bold statement for a guy who won a Cy Young award, went to three All-Star Games, and won some very important postseason contests — including a World Series game that led to a ring. But Zito’s career had a lot of ups and downs. He was left off the 2010 postseason roster, and that Giants team went on to win the World Series. He had some bad years, and didn’t pitch at all in 2014. Then he spent most of 2015 pitching for the A’s Triple-A team in Nashville. And sometimes it wasn’t even his pitching that was getting him down.
“You know, you kind of get boxed in, I think, as a professional athlete to a certain stereotype,” Zito says. “A lot of times, I think my whole career, I felt a little bit out of place in a locker room. And I would say things that were probably a little bit different or maybe making myself more vulnerable than most, and I got labeled as flaky or eccentric. If you don’t fall right into that stereotype now, you’re just kind of an outcast.”
But it was that Triple-A assignment in 2015 that put him on the path to his music career. The A’s Triple-A affiliate is in Nashville, Tennessee, the epicenter of the country music industry. He started co-writing songs while he was pitching there, and since he hung up his glove and his cleats at the end of that season, he hasn’t looked back.
Zito only started playing guitar after he was drafted in 1999, but he comes by his music skills honestly. His parents met when they were both working for Nat King Cole and his orchestra — his mother was a backup singer and his father arranged and composed music for the orchestra. Music is also indirectly why Zito got so involved with baseball as a kid. The elder Zito threw himself into Barry’s T-ball career once the family had moved to San Diego and he was no longer in the music industry.
Papa Zito didn’t know much about sports, so he read books so he could know more. He did know about the music business, though, and never wanted Barry to get involved.
“He actually didn’t want me going into music,” Zito says. “He knew how difficult it was to make it in the music world. And his approach was always, you know, ‘You master three pitches, and baseball will send out these scouts to the ends of the earth to find you.’ Whereas, you could be the greatest musician ever, but if you don’t have the right people behind you, pushing you, and the right machinery, you may never go.”
Hopefully Barry’s dad isn’t too upset that his son chose to pursue a career in music after he was done in baseball, especially considering how happy he seems. Music is in his blood, but the hard times he endured in baseball helped him find his life in music. And they also gave him a lot of clarity on life in general.
“Generally, in society, we’re raised to worship these idols — these false idols, I guess you could call it — of money, fame, adoration, success,” he says. “But for the people that do get some of that stuff, you realize it’s empty. And what was I shooting for this whole time? And I think there’s a sense of despair once you realize that it’s not there. It’s not in that.”
For Barry Zito, music fills that emptiness. And cheers to him for leaving behind the industry he’d known his entire adult life to pursue something that really made him happy. Because for Zito, it’s not about pursuing those “false idols” anymore; it’s about doing something he truly loves.
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