SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Zito's holiday season has been as busy as it has been rewarding. Last week, the Giants left-hander appeared with his wife, Amber, on NBC's "Today Show" to make donations on behalf of Major League Baseball to the television program's annual Toy Drive. It marked the third consecutive year in which MLB has participated in the effort. Also last week, for the second year in a row, Zito provided funding for the Giants' yearly holiday party at AT&T Park for children and families from local homeless shelters and programs in San Francisco. Beneficiaries included the Homeless Prenatal Program, St. Joseph's Village Family Center, Hamilton Family Center, Compass Family Services and Holy Family Day Home.
Several years ago, Zito appeared at the holiday party as Santa Claus -- which made him the original bearded Giants pitcher, preceding Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo. Zito is renowned for his year-round efforts with his "Strikeouts For Troops" charity, which enables wounded soldiers to be reunited with loved ones and enjoy the comforts of home. This December, for the third year in a row, employees from CSN Bay Area, which televises Giants games, donated toys to Strikeouts for Troops, which in turn distributed them to children of servicemen and women. As always, Strikeouts for Troops is bringing families together from miles away and will provide holiday meals for soldiers. The Zitos also support the St. Anthony Foundation, which provides thousands of meals every day to San Francisco's hungry and homeless. They've been instrumental in assisting the foundation's efforts to rebuild its dining hall. Other organizations the Zitos are involved with include the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Special Olympics, Make-A-Wish Foundation, global illiteracy, organ donation and cancer research. Zito prefers to conduct his humanitarian efforts without fanfare, relying on publicity only when it's absolutely necessary. This holiday season was no exception. However, his contributions to the Giants' World Series triumph sharpened the focus on his endeavors. The Giants won Zito's last 14 starts -- 11 in the regular season and three in the postseason. He went 7-0 with a 3.92 ERA in that regular-season stretch to finish with a 15-8 record and a 4.15 ERA. Zito then earned the decision in two critical postseason victories. With the Giants trailing the Cardinals, 3-1, in the National League Championship Series, Zito pitched 7 2/3 innings in San Francisco's 5-0 Game 5 triumph at St. Louis. He then won the World Series opener, surrendering one run in 5 2/3 innings to outclass Detroit ace Justin Verlander in an 8-3 Giants victory. On and off the field, Zito feels blessed. "Christmas is always a special time, and this Christmas is very special because I am happily married to an amazing woman and because I still get to see my father and spend time with him," Zito said through his spokesperson, Kathy Jacobson. "My family life and professional life are separate. However, I have been in a better mood this offseason as a result of the Giants' success." As private as Zito tries to be with his charitable initiatives, they have not gone unnoticed. On Jan. 30 at Seattle's Safeco Field, Zito will receive the prestigious Hutch Award. The award is bestowed annually upon the Major League player who best exemplifies -- on and off the field -- the honor, courage and dedication of Fred Hutchinson, the widely respected player and manager whose legacy helped spur the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.