Saturday, October 20, 2012

Barry Zito: Life Lessons from the Spiritual Southpaw

I show a clip of “The Franchise,” the television show about the 2011 San Francisco Giants in my Sports & Spirituality class. As mentioned in the blog posting "The Franchise: A Season with the SF Giants and Some Basics in Spirituality" one scene portrays Ron Rolheiser’s definition of spirituality to a tee. Sandwiched in between the stories of the 37-year old relief pitcher, Mark Kroon who didn’t make the roster and the 23-year old rookie Brandon Belt, who did is some other reality TV drama. Pablo Sandavol worked hard during the off season to lose weight and starting pitcher Barry Zito was under scrutiny for being the highest paid player on the team. Last year, I fast-forwarded through the scene. I didn’t want to waste my time on #75 but for some reason, this year, I let the tape run. It’s very easy to say, but even if he hadn’t kept the Giants postseason hopse alive in pitching 7 2/3 innings of shutout baseball in Game 5 of NLCS, I am glad I did.
Barry Zito won the Cy Young award with the Oakland A’s in 2002. It almost felt like a coup d’├ętat when a team just across the bay, my San Francisco Giants signed this three-time All Star to a seven-year deal for $126 million. I followed their excitement in drafting him as my number one pick in my fantasy baseball league (the only year I ever played). Perhaps that is why my disappointment and distaste for “Zeets” runs so deep.

I have posted uncharitable comments on Facebook and Twitter like “Why is it I am only offered free tickets when Zito is pitching?” And when I wrote “37 Million Meals Strong: St. Anthony’s Dining Room,” it took everything in me not to include an editorial comment: Zito finally did something right when he volunteered his time on that special day. I even scoffed when “The Franchise” dubbed Zito as “the spiritual southpaw.” Although intrigued, I was angry the show decided to spend as much time on him as it did.
It was purely a matter of convenience (or laziness) but I left the clip unedited and "75" got his airtime. I listened and watched Barry Zito with a suspicious eye as I saw him playing his guitar and driving his Escalade. He made a few comments here and there about being humbled in 2010 for not making the 25-man post-season roster and what “the Universe or God can tell you" in that lesson. My interest was waning…and then he said, “With a big contract, there’s going to be some scrutiny, some jealousy, some hatred and some anger. I heard one time that anger is just frustrated love. You don’t get angry at something you don’t love.
Well yeah, Barry I am angry with you making $20 million a year and doing little if nothing to deserve it. Can’t say I have ever loved you as a player. I reviewed the message of his statement and realized—he’s right. It’s not Barry I’m angry at (of course I’m writing this after he captured NLCS Game 5) it’s baseball and American society that I’m angry at. I love this game. I love our country. Baseball is our national pastime. I love the game because it has a magical narrative. It reveals who we are as a country and a people in a way that other sports do not.

But despite its story that books and movies past and present capture, the business dimension is taking over. That is the America I am becoming increasingly more familiar with. Barry Zito signed a contract that his agent secured and that the Giants offered. I have a hard time understanding that an athlete could say “No, please don’t pay me that much. I’m not worth it.”

Furthermore, the prices we are now paying athletes is paid for by increased ticket prices. I was able to go to postseason games because I am financially responsible for one person—myself. Many families and Americans are priced out of baseball altogether. Former MLB Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti said "It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart." I hate to be a naysayer, but this reality of the "business of baseball" also breaks my heart.

Barry spoke to the truth once again when he said, “what people don’t realize is we are a bunch of regular dudes chasing our dreams. I’m in the business of throwing baseballs. It all just comes with the territory. What happens when you get so much flak, you start to realize it didn’t become as much fun anymore. There’s no excuse for that. I didn’t do this stuff for some lifestyle. I do this because it’s something I love to do."

Barry Zito’s performance in the 2012 should be all the evidence I need to know that Zeets loves to play the game as much as I love to watch it. And I love to watch good people chasing their dreams. Unfortunately in the United States today, many of our dreams have a price tag next to them. But you can’t buy victory. One thing I will buy however, is a Giants t-shirt with Zito 75 on the back (if they make it to the World Series). Perhaps I should just buy it anyway. The spiritual southpaw taught me a good lesson.

For what its worth.  Barry Zito's salary from the Giants is $19 million this year.  The MVP hopeful Buster Posey, $615,000.  The Giants have the seventh highest payroll in MLB at $117 million.

Photo Credits
The Franchise
St Anthony's
Zito's Unicorn

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