Following a career that spanned 15 years and featured a Cy Young Award (as the American League's best pitcher in 2002), three All-Star Game appearances and a World Series ring with the San Francisco Giants in 2012, some might be surprised to see Zito swap a glove for a guitar and move from the mound to behind the mic. But he? says that music has long been a passion.
Zito tells Billboard that he first picked up a guitar after signing with the Oakland Athletics in 1999 when he was 21 years old: "I knew that I'd have to do something while being on the road for all these hours. I never really jumped into any musical endeavor until then."
Even before that, music was a big part of Zito's household growing up in San Diego. His father was a conductor for Nat King Cole, his mother was one of Cole's backup singers and his sister, Sally Zito, is a country artist. "We always heard great music in the house, whether it was jazz or some of the great '70s and '80s pop," he says.
It wasn't until Sally asked him to play guitar in her band, however, that he considered turning music into a second career. That was "where I really cut my teeth musically," he says. "My sister and I lived together in West Hollywood, so we would play gigs up and down Sunset Boulevard in the offseason from 2002 to 2007."
Since then, Zito has been writing music independently and planning a second life after baseball. His goal was specifically to be a songwriter, but he jumped at the chance to be a solo artist when offered by his manager (his musical one that is).
Zito says that being a former pitcher helped him prepare for being on stage and in front of a crowd. Connecting with the audience, however, is the major contrast. "When you're performing for an audience, you're really singing to give people an emotional experience," he says. "But when you're playing baseball, if there's 50,000 people watching or two people, I really don't care because I'm still in this competition and in battle with somebody. So, it's not as much about the fans when you're on the field competing. But when you're performing, it's all about the fans."
While Zito, 38, says he doesn't yet have plans to release a full album, he's focusing on songwriting, building his set list and performing shows, as he seeks more success in his new field. In January, he played his first full 15-song solo gig at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California. "I love having a family life (in Nashville) and having a day job where I go to work and write songs on Music Row and come home around 4 or 5 every day. But I love performing, so I'll be doing that, too."
With his debut EP, Zito joins a small team of Major League Baseball players that have appeared on Billboard charts. The club includes former New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams, who, since 2003, has charted two jazz albums on the Billboard 200, and notched a pair of No. 1 tracks on the Smooth Jazz Songs chart, and former Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who appeared on the Billboard 200 with his album Covering the Bases in 2005.