MESA, Ariz. –- The news about former A’s teammate Mark Ellis retiring hadn’t reached Barry Zito until he was addressing reporters Thursday afternoon.
“Is he really? Oh wow,” Zito said. “It’s just weird to be at that age where some of your buddies are either retired or retiring.”
At age 36, and having returned to the game after a one-year sabbatical, Zito has been quite reflective during his time in Oakland’s camp this spring. It was brought up to him that former “Big Three” teammate, and current Giant, Tim Hudson plans to call it quits after 2015. Zito said his own temporary break from the game was tougher than he anticipated.
“It’s crazy. I think hanging it up is going to be harder for guys than they realize,” Zito said. “I don’t know, just being out of it for a year. You feel like you’re in control of the game, and then you’re not in it. And you wanna get back in that game so bad.
“We’ve got a long way to go in life.”
Zito stepped away after his 2013 season with the Giants. He started a family, collected his thoughts about baseball and began preparations to make a comeback. He is in Oakland’s camp as a non-roster invitee.
The toughest part of his year away was watching the 2014 playoffs, he said.
“The playoffs is everything,” Zito said. “Watching guys go out there, the playoffs is just such an intensified version of what we do. That’s really what we live for. In ‘13 , I knew I was gonna take a year off. (But) watching the Dodgers go up against the Cardinals (in the 2014 NLDS) and wishing I was out there, you know?”
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As for Ellis, Zito had nothing but praise for his former teammate.
“You knew what you were gonna get,” Zito said. “A hard-nosed guy. I guess you could call that an old school guy. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of guys that are like that.”
On Thursday, Zito faced hitters in a major league environment for the first time since September 2013. He said the adrenaline flowed a bit more with a hitter standing in the box, but it was hardly game intensity. Zito pitched in front of an L-screen and hitters were notified what pitches were coming.
But he was generally satisfied with how it went during the 30-pitch session.
“My curveball was up a little bit, but my fastball/changeup combo was good.”
Catcher Luke Carlin, behind the plate for Zito’s session, thought the lefty was improved over a bullpen session Saturday, which Carlin also caught. And despite the controlled conditions of team batting practice, Carlin said he noticed a shift in Zito’s mentality Thursday going from warm-ups to facing hitters.
“There was a difference from the bullpen to live batting practice,” Carlin said. “His rhythm picked up, his tempo. … To see him be able to flip the switch to competing mode is a good sign in my opinion.”