Barry’s Way

One of Major-League Baseball’s Iconic Pitchers Reveals the Not-So-Secret Source ofHis Success: the Metaphysics of Thought

The following article appeared in the September 2003 issue of Science of Mind magazine.

By mid-summer of 2001, 23-year-old Barry Zito was in a major slump. The Oakland A’s star young pitcher was winding down his second big-league season with a 6–7 win-loss record and an earned-run average of 5.07 — figures that could politely be called modest.

“Basically, I was at rock bottom,” Zito told Science of Mind. “And, a lot of times, you need to be at rock bottom before you can open to a whole new way of thinking.” For Zito, that new way of thinking would come in the form of Ernest Holmes’ 1919 book, Creative Mind.

Realizing that his son’s career was in trouble, Zito’s father Joe, a classically trained musician who had conducted for Nat King Cole, came to Barry in July 2001 with a simple, radical idea found in Creative Mind: The power of thought shapes the circumstances of our outer lives, rather than the other way around. “He introduced me to Creative Mind and he stayed with me for four days going into my next [pitching] start,” Zito said. “We read Creative Mind for five, six, seven hours a day. I made notes and I made affirmation tapes and put up signs in my room affirming who I was, and the power that I have.”

It worked. Zito went on to win a stunning 11 of his next 12 games. He famously rounded out the 2001 season with a 17–8 record and a 3.49 ERA. The southpaw whose second big-league season had looked like it was headed for disaster instead won two consecutive American League pitcher-of-the-month awards by the season’s end.

“You could call it a miracle,” Zito told Science of Mind. “The bottom line is that I went from being one of the worst pitchers in the league and then, post-Creative Mind” — Zito often speaks of his career as divided before and after his discovery of Creative Mind — “I went from being well-below average to being named pitcher of the month for the American League for August and September.”

Zito’s 2002 season went even better. He closed it out with a 23–5 record, a 2.75 ERA, and a Cy Young Award — pitching’s top honor — tucked under his arm. In one year, Zito had gone from the near-bottom of the major leagues to winning more games in a single season than any American League pitcher had since 1988. “Dude,” he told a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times, “that’s not a coincidence.”

Spiritual Roots

Today, Zito sits atop the sports world as one of the most successful — and intriguing — personalities in major-league baseball. But to understand what motivates Barry Zito, one must first understand where he comes from. Zito speaks fondly — and frequently — of his father, Joe. Born in 1928 to a “strict Catholic” upbringing on a farm in New York’s hardscrabble Catskill Mountains, Joe, as Zito describes it, was a freethinker, an outsider before such an archetype had even entered American culture. “He took a lot of time to detach and be alone and really figure out what he thought — aside from religion, aside from basically being force-fed a lot stuff without getting to chose for himself. He figured out a lot of different principles on his own, and years later he picked up Creative Mind and he was just blown away that the ideas he had were already in a book.”

Before Joe discovered the book, he had already developed a personal philosophy similar to the one that would be popularized by figures like Ernest Holmes and Norman Vincent Peale. “He called it ‘universal law’,” Zito explained. Joe understood “universal law” as “a kind of gravity or electricity — something that we can’t quite explain, but that we just know how to use. He determined that thoughts would set up some type of electricity in the atmosphere; and these things would come back to us.”

Remarkably, Joe’s was not the only side of the Zito family with mystical yearnings. Following a divine “visitation” in 1969, Barry explained, his maternal grandmother founded a spiritual movement of her own: the San-Diego based Teaching of the Inner Christ. “It’s basically the same principles [as Creative Mind] described in a different way: That we can create through our thoughts whatever we desire in our life,” Zito said.

Zito’s mother, Roberta, is an ordained minister who previously presided over the Teaching of the Inner Christ Church in San Diego. Roberta named her only son after her brother Barry, another beloved “freethinker” of the family and an acolyte of Zen who mysteriously vanished in 1964 at the age of 22 near Big Sur, California. “He was the original beatnik,” Roberta told the Sacramento Bee. “He was the most original thinker I ever knew.” (Zito has another notable uncle: the actor of Dallas fame, Patrick Duffy.)

Roberta and Joe sought to instill the independent values of his namesake uncle into their son. “I’ve been raised by a family that has always told me that I could do anything I wanted,” Zito said. “My dad always said, ‘You’re a great champion, you can do whatever you want.’ Even from the time I was seven, eight, ten, twelve, fifteen, if you asked me I would say, ‘I’m going to be a big-league pitcher.’ I didn’t know how or where or when, but I saw the end result. I didn’t know what all the details would be going into it; but I always knew it — and that was from them instilling the beliefs in me that I could be whatever I wanted.” Zito’s beliefs, of course, were accompanied by equal parts hard work. His father built a pitcher’s mound in the family backyard in San Diego, and Barry began practicing seven days a week starting at the age of seven. Today, he continues to workout everyday, even on vacations.

Zito further credits his receptivity to spiritual ideas to the strong female presence in his childhood home. “Guys want to be masculine, they want to say they have it all figured out,” Zito said. “A lot of times it shows vulnerability when you say don’t know something, when you look to something higher for guidance. It shows that you don’t know it all and there’s a lot of guys out here who have been raised by their dads who said, ‘don’t ever let ’em see you sweat, son.’ So, I think girls are just more in touch. I was raised by two older sisters — 9 and 13 — and a mom, so I don’t have all that egotistical stuff that goes on with a lot guys.”

Taking It Onto the Field

Following the heroic finish to Zito’s 2001 season and the Cy Young Award that capped his 2002 season, sports journalists began to take a second look at the pitcher’s metaphysical beliefs. Profiles in The New York Times (“A Pitcher Outside the Curve”), USA Today (“Zito Wins Mind Games”), and the Los Angeles Daily News (“Zito and Zen”) increasingly called attention to his spiritual side.

After Zito pitched a 2–0 game against the Yankees in May 2003, the New York Times reported: “He frequently pulled off his cap, but not because he was sweating or uncomfortable. Zito was reading the positive messages — reminders to trust himself — that he writes on the bottom of the bill of his cap.” In a sentiment rarely expressed in the sports pages of The New York Times — or any national newspaper — the story was headlined: “Yankees Fail to Shake Zito’s Trust in Himself.”

The sports journalists who now regularly cover Zito have taken to reporting that the southpaw pastes the affirmation inside the rim of his cap: “Be still and know.” Zito’s inspiration is from one of the shortest and most powerful passages in Creative Mind, a single-paragraph chapter called “The Highest Attitude of Mind.” It reads:

The highest attitude of mind, from which all else springs, is one of the perfect calm and absolute trust in the Spirit. The one who can with perfect confidence look into the future and with perfect ease of mind rest in the present, and who never looks backward, but who has learned to be still in his own soul and wait upon the Spirit, he is the one who will the most completely demonstrate the supremacy of spiritual thought over all so-called material resistance. “Be still and know that I Am God.”

Zito has a spiritual training regimen today that grows from the lessons he learned after first working with Creative Mind in 2001. “In order to save my year I could have told myself, ‘Look, you’ve got to be the best pitcher in the league in the next two months’ — and that would have felt like such a burden to live up to. But I didn’t; I focused moment to moment.” And that philosophy underscores, if not quite a Barry Zito Program than certainly a programmatic approach to using the power of his mind to improve his game.

Mental training starts, Zito explained, by using one’s mind more actively to avoid being continually jostled by outside circumstances. “I try to be at the center of my own world and, as hard as it is, not to be affected by all the stuff flying around and all the thought-forms and negativity. Just let that bead off of you. I just encourage everyone to live like that and not give power to other people’s beliefs and opinions and all the stuff that brings us down. Live your life by inner realization.”

This doesn’t mean adopting a monastic lifestyle. In Zito’s view, the power of mind can be harnessed in the here and now. His own practice might be divided into three basic steps:

  • Affirmations. “My big thing is putting up signs in my room reminding me who I am. I use affirmations that I say to myself while I’m driving or that I put on an audiotape.”
  • Centering. “I will get quiet before I go to sleep, or before I get up.”
  • Expectation. “I take a goal and I say it as if it were the past tense … Wear the mood that you’ve already achieved the thing you’re trying to accomplish.”

Zito is adamant about the need to maintain a regular spiritual practice. “If you don’t keep a consistent routine, you’re not going to have a consistent mindset,”he said. “When I’m really struggling, I’m doing a lot of mental work. In the four days going into my [pitching] start, I’m picking up Creative Mind and I’m listening to affirmations and sometimes it just gets locked in — and then I won’t pick it up for a couple of weeks because I am thriving on that belief system. I’m in a state where it’s cycling, and then sometimes it deviates and I have to get back in it.”

Creative Mind is not the only spiritual work Zito reads, but it is his favorite. He and his father have come to see the book — Ernest’s Holmes’ first — as the core statement of the philosophy Holmes founded. “I could go and read every single Holmes book but that’s not going to help me,” Zito said, explaining that he wants to avoid “getting too caught up in theory.” He believes, instead, in finding what he calls “the one true directive” within any book or idea. “It’s good to pick your book or pick your paragraph.” There are, however, other works of Ernest Holmes that he draws upon. These include Thoughts Are Things; Love and Law: The Unpublished Teachings; The Science of Mind textbook; How to Use the Science of Mind; 365 Science of Mind; and Creative Mind and Success. Zito recently spoke of Creative Mind and Success to the Los Angeles Daily News: “You read it a couple of pages at a time and it’s very deep. You can read a page and it takes you an hour to digest it. It’s not for the weak-minded.”

Zito is also interested in the work of his grandmother’s Teaching of the Inner Christ and in the writings of influential 20th century metaphysical philosopher Neville Goddard, who wrote under the solitary penname Neville. In the work of Neville, particularly in his compendium Resurrection, Zito finds that the key to mental power is to: “Feel that feeling that you would have after you have accomplished your goal. Feel that feeling all the time, and pretty soon all that can happen is that.” In Resurrection, Neville writes:

If you knew how you would feel were you to realize your objective, then, inversely, you would know what state you could realize were you to awaken in yourself such feeling. The injunction, to pray believing that you already possess what you pray for, is based upon a knowledge of the law of inverse transformation. If your realized prayer produces in you a definite feeling or state of consciousness, then, inversely, that particular feeling or state of consciousness must produce your realized prayer.

Since, 2001 Zito’s spiritual search has brought him to a place not many people associate with spirituality: “It gave me a lot more accountability. And that’s why a lot of people, if you try to tell them they create their reality through their thoughts, don’t want to know that; they don’t want think that what they have in their world is because of their thinking. They want to think it’s because of fate or because some people were gifted or other people weren’t. …It’s about accountability. Whenever I lose a game I take it fully upon myself. I don’t say the umpires were bad, I don’t say the hitter got a cheap hit, I don’t say my arm wasn’t feeling good. Because when you when win you don’t say, ‘that umpire sure was amazing and without him I wouldn’t have won.’”

Spiritual Values, Material World

As Zito has occasionally discovered, an original thinker is not always understood within the often-conformist world of professional sports. The Chicago Sun Times recently put it this way: “Baseball’s jowly, pinch-mouth establishment sometimes feels threatened by him. They call him a typical lefty, a flake.” Some people affectionately tag the freethinking pitcher “Planet Zito” or “Captain Quirk.”

“It’s an easy way out to say that I’m a little weird,” Zito says of his critics. “But the bottom line is, if you ask guys [on the Oakland A’s], I think they’re very intrigued with the way I lead my life. Half of me wants to push these principles on guys, because I think I’ve really come upon something simply amazing. But the other half says don’t try to force it, they’ll accept it when they’re ready.”

Looking at Zito’s spiritual commitments, and the results they bring, it’s almost impossible not to see him as a model of practical idealism — anything other than the head-in-the-clouds New Ager that some might paint him as. Indeed, some of Zito’s own teammates have developed a healthy curiosity about the source of his ideas. But putting that curiosity into action, Zito observes, is another matter. “Guys don’t really talk about our craft as much as you would think. We’re all good friends, but no one really says, ‘I’m just not confident right now.’ There’s a guy on my team who is one of my best friends right now, and he’s struggling mentally and I just tried to help him today and he doesn’t want to be helped; so half of me is hurting and the other half is saying, ‘look I love you and I’m trying to help you.’ I introduced him to Creative Mind and he’s spoken to my dad a couple of times.”

The way Zito sees it, people will embrace new ideas when they are ready — and it’s best that way. “I don’t try to force it; because if you try to force it on someone you open yourself up for scrutiny. People can be quick to criticize, and I’d just rather not have that.”

Beyond Baseball

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts that Zito has found on the spiritual path is the confidence to move beyond the public’s perception of him as a ball player — even to contemplate a second career in the arts. In addition to spiritual matters, Zito has been heavily influenced by his family’s extensive musical background. Like his father, Zito’s mother is a classically trained musician who also performed with Nat King Cole’s band. His sister Sally is a budding performer who shares her brother’s ideals. “My sister is a singer/songwriter and she uses the exact same thing” — Creative Mind — “in her method,” Zito said.

An avid guitarist himself, Zito recently jammed at a benefit concert with the 1970s super group Chicago. He has been taking marathon guitar lessons and seriously considers a post-baseball musical career. “After baseball I want to do some things musically and maybe with acting, photography, art. I’ve got so many creative things I want to accomplish. I’m not going to stay around the game of baseball when I’m done. I’m going to do other stuff. I’m not one of those guys who’s going to coach or be a general manager. Baseball is a kind of venue for me to express myself — not just a sport that I thrive on.”

If there is a key to Zito’s success, this may be it: life is not so much what he does, but how he does it. For Zito, life is a process based in self-expression and personal excellence. “I’m here at the highest levels of baseball and I’m working everyday to be one of the best,” he said. “It’s just a constant journey within myself to see how much of me I can bring out.”

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