Riding Giant

San Francisco pitcher Barry Zito on surfing, traveling, and career-ending shark attacks

ENDLESS SPRING: Barry Zito at the Giants' training facility in Scottsdale, Arizona     Photo: Bayce Duffy

The storyline on San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito generally goes something like this: He throws arguably the best curveball in the game, but he's a bit of a flake who surfs, does yoga to stay in shape, mountain-bikes during spring training, and takes his guitar on the road with him. If that's flaky, then maybe we're not as cool as we thought (quite possible). And with his new seven-year, $126 million contract the richest ever for a pitcher the 29-year-old San Diego native should be able to afford some epic surf trips in the off-season. GORDY MEGROZ recently caught up with Zito to discuss his dual nature.

OUTSIDE: How did you get into surfing?
ZITO: I was a bodyboarder for many years. But I went to my college orientation at UC Santa Barbara, a big surf town, and all the guys there were really good surfers, and they were so cool. So I was like, "Yeah, man, I surf. Totally.I love it." That was the beginning of August, and school started in September. I went home and got a board and surfed for about 60 straight days so I could cover my ass. I've ended up loving it ever since.

Has surfing helped you in baseball?
Yeah. Pitchers use their pecs to propel the ball forward, so a lot of throwers' shoulders get set a little bit forward. Paddling a surfboard really works the scapular area and the posterior area of the shoulders and strengthens them. So I feel like that's been a bonus.

But there's a clause in your new contract that says you can't surf.
It's not that I can't surf; it's that if I get hurt, I won't get paid. In my first contract, I had mountain-biking and surfing clauses that said that if I ever got hurt doing that stuff, my contract could not be voided. But now, if I get hurt surfing, the Giants can void my contract. I talked to the owners about this, and they're not worried about me catching a skeg in the eye or something; they're worried more that a shark's gonna come eat me. But I think insurance would cover that.

So are you still paddling out?
Not during the season. It's just not worth it.

You also do yoga and meditate, which has led the baseball press to label you as flaky.
The most outdoorsy these guys get is playing golf or hunting. So if I play guitar or surf or do yoga, I'm some weirdo. But you have to take it for what it is. Baseball is one of the oldest games in this country. There are definitely stereotypes, but I think we're breaking through those things.

You're on the road for eight months a year. How do you cope?
I bring some candles and my iPod and iPod dock. I'll also bring my own Tempur-Pedic pillow, so I can basically feel like I'm in my own house, and my guitar, so I'll still have my relaxation.

If you're throwing in a DVD, is it Point Break or The Natural?
Oh, Point Break. Endless Summer is outstanding, too.

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