Happy Earth Day, Athletics Nation!
Former A’s pitcher Barry Zito is in town for tonight’s game. The lefty was named to three All-Star teams during his first stint with Oakland, which spanned seven seasons. He won the American League Cy Young in 2002 by going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA, leading the A’s to the playoffs for their third consecutive season. Including his 2015 return, Zito went 102-63 with a 3.58 ERA over 225 games (224 starts) with Oakland.
Now, Zito is teaming up with Energy Upgrade California to promote responsible energy management. He’ll be helping lead a powered-down national anthem. But he took the time out of his busy morning to talk with me about his last season in Oakland, what he’s been up to since we last saw him, some energy saving tips and more. I hope you enjoy!
Iversen: So let’s start with the last season of your career, your return to Oakland. What was it like working with some of the A’s minor leaguers in Triple-A Nashville?
Zito: It was an eye-opening experience to say the least, realizing how good I had it 15 years prior. Just seeing how much of a grind it is for these guys working five, six years to get up to the big leagues. It definitely made me grateful for my call-up after just one year in 2000.
Iversen: You got the call in September of that season and had the chance to make one final start at the Coliseum against Tim Hudson and the Giants. What did that last start mean to you, especially coming against a longtime teammate?
Zito: That was a really special day for me. I don’t think either of us pitched as well as we wanted, but it was good on a personal level. In a way, it was nice to have it be flawed instead of being perfect. And it being against Huddy, seeing him in orange and black was surreal. I wish I could have enjoyed it all more, but obviously I had a job to do. It was a magical day, all of the fans had these “Twin Aces” signs and they were all into it, it was just super cool to see.
Iversen: You’ve since launched a successful music career. Did your time in Nashville with the Sounds help kick-start that in any way?
Zito: Absolutely. I never planned on going or moving to Nashville, I was always an LA guy. But we just hit it perfect with the A’s moving their Triple-A affiliate to Nashville that year. My wife and I moved there and we couldn’t be happier. It was a good experience, starting at the bottom in a new field and having to work my way back up. Definitely very humbling.
Iversen: When you look at this current A’s roster, between the youth, energy and talent, does it remind you at all of that early-2000s powerhouse you were a part of?
Zito: Oakland has always had this untethered attitude about the team. I’ve always gotten rooty, organic vibes around the Oakland organization. I’ll have to make sure this is still the case when I get in there tonight, but the clubhouse has a similar, loose feel. It’s always felt more like a college clubhouse — totally loose, totally free. There’s a beauty about how individuality and personality are embraced instead of trying to change guys into how a major leaguer ‘should’ look or act.
Iversen: We know a bit about your music career, but what else gave you been up to since your playing days?
Zito: Not a whole lot. Pretty much just music and spending time with my family, I haven’t had a lot of time for anything other than that.
Iversen: Can you tell me a little bit about your new book, Curveball?
Zito: So I just finished the book. I’m not sure exactly what I can or can’t say, since it doesn’t come out until September. But the goal is to give people a look behind the curtain. We’re all striving for fame and fortune, but getting there didn’t give me the happiness and fulfillment I expected. It left me with a sort of emptiness. Obviously I’m happy with where I got, but the book is an honest depiction of what that journey looks like.
Iversen: So today is Earth Day, and you’re teaming up with Energy Upgrade California. What inspired you to do so?
Zito: I’m a native Californian, and I think California is just the most beautiful place on the planet. Energy Upgrade California is an organization that tries to inspire people to be more efficient with energy. My family, we’ve been doing a lot of the little things — switching out our light bulbs for LED bulbs, turning our phones off at night, washing our laundry on cold, turning off and getting off technology, it all adds up. We’re just trying to keep California golden, keep it golden, baby.
Tonight we’re doing an unplugged national anthem. No Diamond Vision, no microphones, no technology at all. Just a cappella with the fans. It’s going to give me goosebumps for sure.
Iversen: Given the state’s size and prominence, do Californians have an added responsibility when it comes to saving energy?
Zito: I think the biggest thing for most people is, ‘what difference can I make on my own?’ But if we each changed just three light bulbs in our house, that’s how many millions of people in California? For me, it’s about educating people. These changes aren’t a big deal, you just have to turn people on to it.
Iversen: It would be a mistake to talk to you and not ask about your curveball. Do any current players ever call you up and ask you for tips on how to throw it?
Zito: No major leaguers, but I’ve definitely worked with some of my friends in the music industry, their kids. I really enjoy working with high school and college kids. When I first came up, the curveball was kind of a dying art, more guys were throwing cutters and sliders. But now the curveball seems like it’s coming back, so maybe I’ll get some more calls! It’s something we all enjoy, being able to pass the wisdom down when people ask.
To learn more about Energy Upgrade California, their goals and more tips to save energy, check out their website. Tonight’s first pitch is at 7:07 p.m., but make sure you get to the park early to see Zito and a very special national anthem. A big thank you to Barry for taking the time out of his morning to chat!