Welcome to The Rotation! This is a weekly column, written by yours truly, that talks about the wonderful blended worlds of baseball and music. These two have been staples of Americana for centuries and are as big a part of our culture as apple pie and Chevrolet. My goal is to pick a different topic between the beautiful, unified world of baseball and music and write about it each week.
One of my first columns focused on Bernie Williams, a legendary baseball player-turned-musician. I’m adopting that same theme to talk about former A’s/Giants starter Barry Zito, who had a short-lived career as a country musician during/after his playing career.
Here’s Another Hit, Barry…Zito?
I imagine most of you remember Zito. If you do, you likely remember him as either a Cy Young-winning starter for the Oakland A’s in the early 2000s, or as the disappointing, overpaid, but still World Series-winning starter for the crosstown San Francisco Giants in the latter half of the decade.
But what about Barry Zito, country musician?
Zito grew up in sunny Southern California. His dad composed and arranged music for the legendary Nat King Cole and arranged for the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, while his mom briefly sang backup with Cole.
Zito decided to focus on baseball instead of pursuing the family business, getting drafted three times before eventually signing with the A’s after they took him in the first round in 1999.
He started playing guitar during that 1999 season, as a way to pass the time during road trips. He spent the next few years perfecting his curveball and going from minor leaguer, to rookie, to Cy Young winner in a manner of three years.
It was then, during 2002, that his sister—Sally Zito—asked him if he would play guitar in her country band. He ended up doing that during the offseason every year from 2002 to 2007, before he signed his ill-fated seven-year contract with the Giants.
He continued playing music on the side during the downfall of his career in San Francisco. When he decided to make a comeback bid with the A’s in 2015, he ended up spending the majority of the season with their Triple-A affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee, the home of country music.
He ended up using his time in Nashville to better prepare for his future career a musician, learning from the history of the city and industry professionals.
After his comeback bid fell short, Zito hit the recording studio and ended up releasing his first EP, No Secrets, in January 2017. The EP features six songs, all written or co-written by Zito. It can be found on Apple Music, Spotify, etc. for those interested.
Zito also co-wrote and sang vocals on the theme song for the Nashville Sounds, Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate. The song is called That Sound.
Walk-Up Songs of the Week
Note: If you want a playlist of all the walk-up songs of the week, go to Spotify and search “Pitcher List Walk-Up Jams”
Hitter: Joey Votto, Paint It Black (Rolling Stones)
I wrote about this in a previous column, but after I graduated from college, my dad and I took a weeklong vacation around the Midwest (we lived in Oregon at the time) and went to five baseball games in seven days, at four different parks: Wrigley, Miller, Great American and Comerica for two.
The Reds-Rockies game was far and away my favorite, as Colorado absolutely torched Cincinnati for six round-trippers; three by Carlos Gonzalez, two by Troy Tulowitzki and one from Todd Helton. It was an absolute blast.
Part of the fun was getting to listen to other teams’ walk-up songs. Todd Frazier had one of my favorites, going with Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon, which was featured in a previous column. However, I was also a huge fan of Joey Votto using The Rolling Stones’ classic, Paint It Black.
Votto doesn’t use it anymore, but I love the idea of one of the most patient hitters in the league using a song that sounds like it is about a pitcher painting the corner (it’s not—unless Mick Jagger is more of a baseball fan that I thought).
Regardless, it was a fun tune to hear when Votto came up, although that feeling was exacerbated by the crowd’s excitement to see its star at the plate—excitement that has waned in the midst of a 1.5-year slump for the 35-year-old first baseman.
Pitcher: Buck Farmer, Keep Your Hands to Yourself (The Georgia Satellites)
I assume that because his name is freakin‘ Buck Farmer that he is contractually obligated to use country songs for his walk-up. He picked a dadgum good one at least, going with the Georgia Satellites’ 1986 Southern rock classic, Keep Your Hands to Yourself.
Farmer is from Georgia, which—unsurprisingly—is also where the Georgia Satellites are from. Another fun fact: The bassist for the band, Dave Hewitt, was formerly in a band simply called Babe Ruth. Perhaps they should have been featured in my baseball-themed band names column earlier this year.
Farmer is quietly having a nice season, with a 10.04 K/9 and a 3.56 FIP out of the Tigers bullpen.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)