SAN FRANCISCO — For Barry Zito, every day is Veteran’s Day.
Strikeouts For Troops, the organization Zito founded in 2005 to provide support and the comforts of home to wounded U.S. soldiers and their families, has continued to make a positive impact in various ways. From providing entertainment to offering much more meaningful assistance such as medical help and reuniting soldiers with loved ones, Zito’s cause has enriched the lives of numerous men and women in uniform.
Consistent with his modest nature, Zito seeks no recognition for his efforts. That hasn’t stopped others from lavishing praise upon the Giants left-hander for his dedication.
Richard Williams, a San Diego attorney who coordinates the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, addressed Zito’s generosity. Strikeouts For Troops has helped numerous soldiers receive visits from their families, who otherwise couldn’t afford travel, lodging and meals when hundreds or thousands of miles separate hospital from home.
“The war impacts families as much as it impacts the Marines,” Williams said. “What Strikeouts For Troops does is help families lessen the financial burdens of the war. It’s hard to express what Barry does. Major League Baseball ought to know there’s a great group of baseball players who walk the walk and talk the talk.
“Barry is doing the Lord’s work. I don’t know how else to say it. He’s providing a service to real-life situations.”
Christopher Hill, a retired U.S. Marine Staff Sgt., felt so grateful to Zito that he drove approximately 260 miles from his Las Vegas home to be at San Diego City Hall on April 20, which was declared “Barry Zito Day.” That day, the City Council recognized Zito, who grew up in San Diego, as Strikeouts For Troops marked the five-year anniversary of its inception.
Hill, who fought in Saudi Arabia, served four tours of duty in Iraq and was wounded in Fallujah, spared nothing in thanking Zito before the Council and the audience.
“For him to extend his hand in friendship the way he did really made a significant change in my life,” Hill said. Turning to Zito, he added, “It’s not what you gave that made you my brother, it’s that you gave.”
Zito remains perpetually humbled by his contact with the troops.
“To have a small window into their world, their experience is something that has affected me in a major way,” Zito said.
Zito keeps that window open through his personal involvement. Strikeouts For Troops has raised approximately $2 million through contributions from more than 65 Major Leaguers, most of whom donate a particular sum of money for each strikeout they record or hit they collect.
Much larger organizations exist, but Zito, 32, relishes the one-on-one contact he maintains with troops and their families. Hill, who endured a spinal cord injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, was a guest at one of Zito’s annual Spring Training outings in which approximately 25 Marines are treated to Cactus League games and special meals, serve as honorary batboys and meet various Major Leaguers. A skeptical Hill recalled thinking at one of the functions, “I’d probably see the back of [Zito's] head all night.” Such was not the case.
The 2010 season was a banner year not only for the World Series-winning Giants, but also for Zito and his charity. Besides the troops’ Spring Training visit and Zito’s big day in San Diego, two Marines who had benefited from Strikeouts For Troops participated in pregame ceremonies before the May 31 Giants-Rockies Memorial Day game in San Francisco. Three other home dates were designated as Strikeouts For Troops games, in which soldiers not only were guests of Zito and the Giants, but also were interviewed on the game telecast.
Strikeouts For Troops also teamed with FLIR Systems, which specializes in thermal imaging, to donate $500 for each strikeout recorded in every Major League game on July 4. A total of $121,500 was directed to to the Fisher House Foundation, which builds homes around the country to house the families of wounded soldiers who are undergoing treatment at veterans’ hospitals and medical centers.