Zito had a five-hour dinner in Beverly Hills with Sabean, Baer, Bochy and owner
Peter Magowan, the Giants weren't even on his radar. "I was preparing
myself for the most intense situation, which would have been New York," he
says. What changed things was the instant bond he felt with the Giants'
straightforward general manager. (Zito was so close to Oakland G.M. Billy Beane
that he says he would call him in the middle of the night to talk.) "Sabean
said he was humbled from the last couple of years," says Zito. "To see
a guy of his stature suck it up and come out and say that was huge."
A few weeks later
Zito signed on with the understanding that the personality he brings to the
club is a big part of the deal. So he regularly arrives at the clubhouse in the
morning with a monumental case of bed-head, wearing slippers and carrying a
yoga mat. He dispenses curveball tips to other pitchers, talks philosophy--and
tells great stories, like the one about the cactus.
It seems that
Zito was out in the desert during the first week of spring training shooting a
self-portrait with a wide-angle lens--of course he was--when he grazed a
jumping cholla, a species of cactus with spiny stems that, at the slightest
touch, painfully attach themselves to unsuspecting passersby. "I walked by
this thing, dude, and I swear it almost reached out," he recounts. "All
of a sudden there's this baseball-sized spiky thing in my knee, right through
my jeans." Naturally, Zito tried to remove it using two rocks. Then he
headed back to the clubhouse to see the trainer, spines still protruding from
his knee, whereupon he had to trash his jeans. Says Zito, "Bonds was
f------ dying. He thought it was hilarious."
And that, with
all due respect to his 2002 Cy Young Award, might be the most remarkable feat
yet of Zito's career: He made Barry Bonds laugh. It might not be worth $126
million, but right now for the Giants, it's worth a lot.