Barry Zito signed a minor-league deal with the A's. Your first response might be to laugh. I received both a text and a tweet after the news was announced, exclaiming mock disgust. The common sentiment was something like, "Ugh, you know he's going to have a great year for them," sarcastic, half-bitter.
To which I respond, man, I sure hope so.
Start with the basic, simple odds that have been against the Giants every single season. They probably aren't going to win the World Series. I know, I know, that's what we said last season, but after they stumble through the wall like a drunk Kool-Aid Man every other year, people stack the bricks again. It's going to be as tough as it always is, and there's about a five-percent chance that this season ends like last season's did, with a 95-percent chance of burning disappointment.
So if you don't have other things to root for, you'll drive yourself crazy. I know what it's like to have nothing else to root for. I called it 1977 through 2009, and it was an obnoxious way to follow baseball. Now, though, we can hope for the obvious, but still sniff some roses along the way. There are other things to root for. I hope the Dodgers don't win, for example. I'll go out on that limb. I hope the Cardinals get locked in their clubhouse before Game 7 of the NLCS and have to forfeit. I hope Byron Buxton goes for 30/30 and Jose Altuve threatens .400. And if the Giants can't win, well, I have a list of teams I'd be happy for.
One of those teams is the Oakland A's. And I don't care if Zito's contributions come out of the bullpen or as a starter in the World Series, if he can help the A's do something special, it will make the likely disappointment of a Giants odd year that much more interesting. It would simultaneously remind us of 2012 and all of the other improbable years combined. It would remind us that baseball is an improv class filled with people who think they're funnier than they are. It would be simply glorious for Zito to pitch meaningful, valuable innings for the A's this year.
If he pitches against the Giants at all this year, I'm rooting for 12 earned runs, of course. Every danged time. This is big-picture stuff.
A criticism I've heard often in my career is that I'm too quick to feel sorry for millionaires who have won the genetic lottery, and that's probably true. The image of Barry Zito, alone in his mansion, drinking a bottle of wine that cost as much as my first car, and wistfully thinking about the Cy Young years doesn't have the same sting that you might feel with a real-life Uncle Rico, the sad lamentations of someone who didn't do crap and wasn't paid to not do crap.
If we're going to have enough suspension of disbelief to pretend these games mean something, though, and bite our nails and scream ourselves hoarse hoping for, like, Juan Perez to hit a sacrifice fly in the 15th inning, then that suspension of disbelief has to extend to the players on the stage. Zito isn't a millionaire who won the genetic lottery; he's a human who used to be the best at what he did, and now he's a humbled man trying and trying again. If you can't root for Barry Zito because he's rich, you probably can't root for Tim Lincecum. If you can't root for Tim Lincecum, your soul is an eternal mouthful of sand, and maybe this business of rooting and fandom isn't for you.
So it follows that I can root for Zito just fine, thank you. Now, the question is if these feelings are the same if Brooks Conrad doesn't boot the ball, if Jay Bruce hits one 500 feet off Sergio Romo, and if Salvador Perez hits the most famous home run in World Series history. If all three of those things happen, are we so quick to pull for this overdog-turned-underdog?
Ha ha, no. Zito would be on the Armando Benitez tier of loathing and despair, a player who was supposed to make everything better and did the exact opposite for a long, long time. The Giants would still be oh-for-San Francisco, and those texts would be dripping with bitterness and rage. In that context, "Ugh, you know he's going to have a great year for them," would mean something wholly different. If the Giants' run over the last five years didn't happen, this would be a day of anger.
Yes, thank you again, Magnolia. But it did happen. So, hey, look at Barry Zito trying to make a comeback. The first thing I want this baseball season is for the Giants to win another World Series and cheese everyone off again. The second thing I want just might be for Barry Zito to have the best season of his career. Rooting for him is the kind of luxury that only a spoiled fan with perspective can enjoy. Wouldn't you like to be that spoiled fan? Try it. It's fun.
(The Giants knocking Zito out in the first inning of Game 7 would be even better, of course. I'm just saying if that doesn't happen.)
(Also, Zito almost certainly isn't going to make the A's roster this year. I'm just saying if that does happen.)
(Good luck, Barry Zito.)