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6 Things Governments Can Learn from SF Giants Pitcher Barry Zito

Zito’s professional experience and lessons learned on the field can be applied to the public sector.

by / January 23, 2013
San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito Aspen Photo /

For San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito, playing professional baseball is not solely about skill and fame – there are many challenges and lessons to be learned throughout a baseball career. 

And on Saturday, Jan. 19, the two-time World Series champion with the Giants spoke at The Intersection, offering up six tips for succeeding in his baseball career -- tips that may be applied for succeeding in government.

1. Allow for the unpredictable or the uncontrollable. 

According to Zito, allowing yourself some mystery in your career is OK. “You have to allow a space for the question mark, for the mystery; the thing that’s the unpredictable, the uncontrollable.”
Zito said that the moments he felt he had faltered in his career were the times he didn’t allow for that space. Trying to take responsibility for everything that happens isn’t particularly the best strategy. Whether you’re throwing a pitch or presenting a business plan, you might feel stressed about it,  Zito said, but  there are no guarantees that you’ll get the result you’re expecting. So don't always have expectations; leave room for change. 

On Saturday, Jan. 19, San Francisco Giants Pitcher Barry Zito (right) spoke at The Intersection, a conference  held in Mountain View, Calif., that  focused on innovation for social change. Photo by Sarah Rich

2. Focus on ‘What am I gonna do?’ Not, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’

When Zito is on the pitcher’s mound, he said two trains of thought can enter his head -- something that also may be common for other professional baseball players (or those in any other career, for that matter). The first is, “What am I gonna do?” And the focus then leads to “What’s going to happen?” When you think about what you’re going to do, Zito said you can focus on things like, “What are my skills?”

If you focus on thoughts like, “What’s going to happen to me?” Skills and talent won’t matter because you become more concerned about how you’re going to look, if you’ll be ashamed or if you’re going to be embarrassed, he said. If you focus too much on what other people will think of you, the other train of thought gets lost.

3. During crunch time, people can surprise you.

During high-pressure situations, whether you’re playing in the World Series or in any other critical situation, the individuals who take on leadership roles may surprise you. Zito said when he was playing in the 2012 World Series, the team was facing a crunch time to succeed, and players on the team who aren’t typically “huge headline guys” were stepping up to help the team to victory. (The San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series after a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers.)

Overall, Zito said sometimes during crunch time, the people you least expect will surprise you and lead to you success.

4. Let personalities shine through when your team is on the field (or on the job).

When you’re on a team, management of that team can determine how much individual personalities emerge when you’re playing the game (or working on a project). Zito said Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy has a great sense of balance when it comes to managing the team. He finds this balance by allowing for personalities to shine through so the players can show their true colors. 

For instance, Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval is known for his vibrant personality on and off the field,  Zito said,  and Bochy allows for him to demonstrate his personality when he plays.  “And I think that’s great about our manager,” he said. “He’s not trying to suppress these things.”

Allowing for personalities to shine through leads to a better product in the end.

5. Everyone has something to offer.

Whether you’re on a team or part of a staff, every individual contributes something different to the group. Zito said he felt like he had a lot figured out as a young baseball player, but as he got older, he realized that he could be surprised on a daily basis by a fellow player -- someone he didn’t think could bond with him -- but who would offer up some advice or bit of wisdom that would stick with him, "that I can take with me for years and years.”

6. If you’re going to jump, jump from high above. 

When Zito discussed his thoughts on taking risks in baseball, he referred to a quote by author Paulo Coelho:

A fall from the third floor hurts as much as a fall from the hundredth. If I have to fall, may it be from a high place.

Zito realized that if you’re going to crash and burn, you might as well crash and burn, because you have something to take away from that situation when you put yourself on the line. “And you can leave that situation and say, ‘Hey, I did everything I could.'”

Main photo of Barry Zito by Aspen Photo /

Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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