Zito's performance earns him never-ending respect

Jeff Roberson/APBarry Zito

Jeff Roberson/APBarry Zito

From the moment he signed the big contract, there was resentment.

From the moment he first exited a game early, there was ridicule.

From this moment on, there will be respect.

Sure, some of that respect will be of the begrudging variety. But it will be there. Always and forever.

And for Barry Zito, that will always and forever be quite enough.

The love, respect and admiration that flowed so freely from fans? Sweet. Much appreciated. Gratifying beyond belief. But necessary? Not for Zito to have put head to pillow after that game with a smile on his face and in his heart.

That smile comes only to those true to the only people who matter: self, family and friends.

If all of this sounds just a little too flowery, too holistic, too granola-in-your-hemp hazy, well, it’s supposed to. Because that’s Zito.

And if it sounds a little too presumptive of Zito’s state of mind, of his essence, of his very being, well, it’s not. Because the words you are now reading are those not of a sportswriter, but a friend.

Members of the media aren’t supposed to befriend the subjects of their coverage, of course. But look, members of the media and the subject they cover? Human. Every damn one of ’em. And every once in a while, humanity supersedes the law of the land.

Barry Zito is a good friend of mine, and I of his. We’ve been friends since the day we met, as rookies in Oakland; he as a player, me as a beat writer. And after well over a decade of trying — mostly unsuccessfully — to disguise that fact that I want him to kill it every time out, I dropped the thinly veiled act before Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, joined the infectious, organic #RallyZito movement on Twitter and actually dropped the most blatant of biased exhortations —  “Go Zito!” — on my tweeps.

It was an egregious violation of the media’s cold code, but as I noted, if you can’t cut loose before the team for whom you most ardently rooted as a child takes the field within a game of seeing a pretty special season coming to a close, and with a friend on center stage of the drama, perhaps you’re in the wrong business.

And maybe I am. But as a result of cutting loose, I got to enjoy that game in a way I haven’t enjoyed a game — an entire game — in more than 20 years. I got to be a fan again. I enjoyed every single pitch.

Not that I watched any of them. I couldn’t. I was too nervous for my friend, whom I’d heard savaged — often deservedly so — for years as unworthy of such responsibility and trust. So another friend of mine provided the details, via text, as I distractedly killed time at the pool with my wife, daughters and some friends.

And when that friend texted, late in the evening, of my friend on the mound in St. Louis, “Bochy’s coming to get him. … Infielders to mound to give love,” that same smile I referenced earlier in this piece swept across my face, filled my heart.

Barry Zito is a friend of mine, and I of his. And knowing what he’s been through, I’m as proud of the guy as I’ve ever been for a friend.

Sue me.     

Mychael Urban, host of “Inside The Bigs” (9 a.m. to noon Saturdays) on 95.7 FM The Game, can be followed on Twitter @BigUrbSports. His website is UrbsUnchained.com.

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