Exclusive: Musician, Athlete Barry Zito Plays A New Game With Debut EP ‘No Secrets’

For 15 years, athlete and musician Barry Zito enjoyed success in Major League Baseball. His enviable curveball led to pitching positions for both the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants—including appearing in three All-Star Games and becoming a World Series winner.

In 2015, he walked away from baseball to pursue his love of music. In January, Zito released the six-song EP No Secrets, where he candidly shares his unique story of fame, fortune, temptation, struggle, and ultimately, redemption.

“I had been waiting years to go all-in with music,” says Zito, who began playing guitar while still in the minor leagues early in his baseball career and penned the track “Home” from his EP during the 2011 baseball season. “I think what was hard for me was making sure I really had closure walking away from baseball. I had crazy highs and crazy lows in my career, so for me to walk away and feel complete, unlike so many other athletes that retire, they don’t know their new identity. I got to the point where sometimes I didn’t want to do what I needed to do with baseball, because I was loving writing songs and playing guitar. For me, it couldn’t have been more perfect.”

Zito grew up with a love of music and a natural ear for cadences and melodies. His father Joe Zito was at one time a conductor and arranger for Nat King Cole, and raised Zito on the sounds of the Great American Songbook, and musicians such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Sammy Cahn, Johnny Mercer and more. As Barry grew older, he immersed himself in music from Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald and other adult contemporary performers.

Zito credits his wife Amber with deepening his interest in country music.

“When I met my wife Amber in 2010, that was my first real exposure to country music. It was the first time I really tried to listen to the words and stories in these songs. When you are raised around music, you tend to gravitate toward the rhythms and melodies and you don’t attach to the stories, or at least I didn’t,” Zito recalls. “But country music had these beautiful stories.”

Those country lyrics became the soundtrack for his life and the inspiration for his newfound career. He names Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy” as an early favorite, and Urban’s “Without You” was played during Zito’s wedding.

But as a young boy growing up in Las Vegas, it was Zito’s aptitude for sports that caught his father’s attention. Joe began studying the mechanics and techniques of baseball, and left the music world to help his son pursue sports. The elder Zito hired former Cy Young winner and San Diego Padres pitcher Randy Jones to privately tutor his son in the finer points of the game.

On the track “Home,” Zito pays homage to his father’s encouragement.

“We would go play ball, literally almost every day, from the time I was six to 18,” Zito says. “My father was a brilliant musician and had such success in his career, but he didn’t really know anything about baseball. It was funny that he was mentoring me more or less not on baseball, but more on principles of success. He always said, ‘I know the ingredients of success, I know the signs of failure, and you can apply that to anything.’”

Zito would go on to become a Cy Young winner himself in 2002. Four years later, Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, making him the highest-paid pitcher in major league baseball history at the time.

But by 2008, disillusioned by the trappings and pressure that come with a high-powered career, Zito had reached what he calls “one of my lowest lows in baseball.” He channels those experiences of “chasing temporary highs” into the track “The Secret To Life” on his debut EP.

“That’s such a lesson for me, to have a little bit of fame and success and see how that can get out of check so quickly,” he recalls of the time. “I am constantly on guard for that now and I’m not thinking I’m the center of the world anymore like I did at that time.”

In 2014, Zito made a bold choice to step away from baseball. One year later, he made his professional return to the sport, joining the Triple-A team Nashville Sounds. While Zito was still playing with the Sounds, Nashville executive Robert Filhart contacted him about pursuing the craft of songwriting, a move that inspired Zito to pursue songwriting full-time.

“It’s so funny that I’m in Nashville. I always thought I would pursue writing in Los Angeles, but I had always wanted to pursue it in Nashville,” Zito said. “Robert started taking me into writing rooms literally the day I retired from baseball. I’ve been co-writing ever since the day I retired.”

Constructing and tearing apart lyric after lyric and melody after melody, Zito and his songwriting cohorts began turning his experiences into songs.

In a track from the EP, “My Own Path” Zito ruminates on his decision to step away from baseball completely, having pursued it for 14 years.

“It is kind of unheard of to step away at 35,” Zitos says, “but I was literally hating the game.”

He observes that it’s not unlike a common scenario in Nashville’s music circles.

“You see it all the time here. People come here to chase a dream, and they end up hating music and hating everything about Nashville. With baseball, I started hating the thing I loved most. So it was really cleansing for me to come back after a year off and play AAA for Nashville. It was like, ‘Wow, I can love the game again.’ ‘My Own Path’ tries to embrace the fact that even though this path is not pretty, it’s mine and nobody else can say that.”

Zito kept the EP acoustic, so he can easily replicate the EP during performances. For now, Zito is open to pursuing an artist career, but his immediate focus is on the songs.

“The ultimate goal is to write the best songs I can. I want to get great at writing songs and devote myself to that craft. So many of the artists in this town came here to be great songwriters, and got pulled into artistry. If that’s going to happen, that’s the best way for it to happen.”

Last month, Zito’s love for baseball and music collided, when he penned and provided vocals for “That Sound,” which became the theme song for his former team, The Nashville Sounds.

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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