FanFest shows a more relaxed Zito
Left-hander feels spotlight not as bright for this season
SAN FRANCISCO -- A new year brings with it a fresh start -- an eternal truth that was reinforced for Barry Zito at the KNBR/Giants FanFest on Saturday.Last season, Zito joined the Giants under intense scrutiny after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract, the richest for a pitcher at the time. He proceed to finish 11-13 with a 4.58 ERA, both career worsts. Now, Zito's more calm -- and thus prepared for an improved performance -- which he realized as he participated in a question-and-answer session during the festivities at AT&T Park. "I was looking back to where I was last year, and it was kind of a heightened sense of everything, because of all the craziness that was going on," Zito said. "This year it's business as usual, whereas last year I was kind of singled out and I didn't really feel the same as a lot of my teammates, because there was a lot of microscope on me. "Even if there still is, I'm not perceiving it that way now." Zito's strong finish last year, as evidenced by a 3-2 record with a 3.10 ERA in his final nine starts, demonstrated that he didn't need to spend the offseason obsessing over his pitching or pressuring himself to seek vindication. "I want to perform the way I can, but I'm not going into this season with a big vendetta or a monkey on my back," he said. "It just hasn't been productive for me to do that. I went into last season with a lot to prove, and it didn't turn out the way I wanted to. After about four months, I just kind of realized, you gotta stop doing this. For me, it was taking a different approach, just relaxing." Zito, 29, feels better physically as well as mentally. The left-hander, who has never missed a start in 7 1/2 Major League seasons, said that he weighs 207 pounds, 10 less than he did when last season ended. "I don't think I had a goal to lose weight. I just wanted to lose body fat," Zito said, acknowledging that being leaner should help his agility. His sense of humor was already nimble. Asked if he had any surprises planned for his first on-the-mound throwing session in camp -- a reference to his flirtation with a revised delivery in February 2007, which shocked the Giants -- Zito deadpanned, "Other than [throwing] right-handed, it should be pretty much status quo." Speaking up: New center fielder Aaron Rowand was the star of one of the Q&A sessions allowing fans to quiz Giants players and front-office personnel. Rowand prompted laughter by referring to outfielder Fred Lewis, who was on the same panel, as "F-dot-Lew" and by flashing a look of mock indignation when first-base coach Roberto Kelly omitted his name when citing the team's fastest players. Rowand prompted good-natured booing upon informing fans that he grew up in Southern California rooting for the Angels, who defeated the Giants in the 2002 World Series. "What would you rather have me be, an Angel or Dodger fan?" Rowand asked. In another Q&A segment, general manager Brian Sabean admitted that he looked "long and hard" at the possibility of signing Tony Clark or Sean Casey, both free agents who would have complemented Dan Ortmeier at first base. But Sabean cited the Giants' commitment to youth while adding that players such as Clark or Casey would "come in with the expectation that they're used to playing a lot. If you have someone like that sitting on the bench, it puts them in an awkward position." Sabean reiterated that although he's pursuing trades -- most likely for a third baseman -- he would be reluctant to deplete the Giants' pitching depth. This casts the Joe Crede trade rumors in a different light, since the White Sox have been said to be eyeing Noah Lowry. "If it means giving up what everybody wants, which is young pitching, it's not going to happen," Sabean said. Late in the session, emcee Brian Murphy of KNBR raised the topic which no fan dared mention: The Mitchell Report, which included intriguing testimony from Sabean and owner Peter Magowan about suspicions of Barry Bonds' possible steroid use. Sabean, who'll likely be summoned for further questioning on the issue by Commissioner Bud Selig, said he felt "proud" of the organization's participation in the Mitchell investigation and said, "We know a lot more about the subject and are a lot more educated than anybody else." Shiny happy people: Fanfest drew an estimated 21,000, matching last year's record crowd.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.