07/23/2008 5:00 PM ET
By David Biderman / MLB.com
STOCKTON -- When Barry Zito signed his Giants contract, he told the San Francisco brass he wanted to make a mark on the community.
Zito wanted to be remembered for more than just pitching, and in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon, he took a step toward that goal. Along with the Giants Community Fund and the Good Tidings Foundation, Zito helped christen the Barry Zito Junior Giants Field at the Van Buskirk Community Center.
The two-field plot, a $250,000 project made of the same sod and dirt used at AT&T Park, will be home to approximately 1,200 kids in the Stockton Junior Giants League. Nearly a two-hour drive from China Basin, the Giants felt obligated to extend their reach to all areas of Northern California.
After renovating fields in Redwood City, East Palo Alto, San Jose, Daly City, Richmond and three in San Francisco, the club figured Stockton was as good a spot as any.
"In the end, we want to help as many communities and kids as we can," said Giants executive vice president and CEO Larry Baer, who's overseen the renovation of 16 fields. "To be able to help in some tough communities, like here, it's really heartwarming and vitally important."
Dedicated to pitching and philanthropy, Zito made the San Francisco-to-Stockton trek after starting -- and winning -- a game on Tuesday night. He mentioned he'd slept only a few hours, but making an appearance was a must.
Zito remembers growing up in a "middle-class to lower-middle-class" neighborhood in San Diego, where "Little League was an escape for me."
As a kid, the lefty had two choices: hang out with friends who were doing nothing, or spend time with the guys on his team. The decision was easy, and it paid off.
"There was a lot of temptation, but being in a place with good people was really important," Zito said. "Now, to be a part of something like this ... it's just good to be able to make an impact on so many kids."
Though it was Zito's name on the plaque and banner decorating the fields, he wasn't the only contributor. Among the many guests in attendance for the opening were Giants president and managing general partner Peter Magowan, Baer, Stockton mayor Edward Chavez, Good Tidings Foundation founder Larry Harper, San Francisco announcer Dave Flemming and, of course, Zito.
The ceremony opened with Junior Giants player Heather Anderson singing the national anthem, featured a Zito-led rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and concluded with Junior Giant Miguel Magana -- a lefty -- tossing the ceremonial first pitch before the Junior Giants took the field for a game.
"All you hear about the players is how they make millions of dollars," said Brad King, a Stockton resident who attended the event with his son, Bradley, an 8-year old avid baseball card collector. Brad was decked out in a Zito jersey and Bradley was in a Tim Lincecum T-shirt. "It's good to see them giving back. It's nice to know the kids will have a safe place to play."
For Magowan, the new field wasn't enough. In the middle of his speech, he unexpectedly invited every Junior Giant in attendance -- along with an accompanying family member -- to the Giants' Sunday afternoon game.
Who will those fans see on the hill? Zito.
"Obviously, Barry is an important part of the team," Giants Community Fund executive director Sue Petersen said. "It means so much to have someone like him come out and be so committed. We're just proud to have him as both a player and an individual."