SAN FRANCISCO -- In his hands was immense wealth, millions upon millions, enough to lavishly support several future generations.
In his midst, surrounding his every move, were these constant omens of professional death.
Barry Zito was one of the richest poor souls on earth, a man with everything and a pitcher with nothing.
Yet Zito never surrendered or mentally checked out or got comfortable taking the paychecks he knew he hadn't earned. The left-hander kept searching for answers and seeking fulfillment, profoundly committed to giving his employers a return on the single biggest investment they'd ever made in an athlete.
And, finally, last week, there it was, Zito delivering the grittiest
"What he did in St. Louis," fellow starter Matt Cain said Tuesday, "is something he needed. And something we really, really had to have."
The redemption of Zito is complete, at least in the eyes of his teammates and employers, even before he takes the mound Wednesday night to face Detroit in Game 1 of the World Series in San Francisco's bayside ballpark.
That the Giants are thanking Zito above all others, including NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro, for their presence on baseball's grandest stage, suggests something of a parable.
For Zito has spent much of his time in San Francisco
"It says a lot about his mental toughness, his makeup," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I mentioned this in 2010. It wasn't easy not to put him on the postseason (roster). He was struggling in September. But the way he handled it was so impressive. He went out, I think he threw a bullpen (session) that day. And throughout the postseason, he kept himself ready in case something happened."
After seven very good years in Oakland (102-63), Zito had become the biggest financial black hole in Giants history, entering 2012 with a 43-61 record in San Francisco.
So awful was Zito in spring training this year -- 7.91 ERA, 44 base runners in 191/3 innings -- that the Giants departed Arizona without him. He was left behind to, um, fine-tune his delivery mechanics.
When a pitcher is almost 34 and coming off five consecutive losing seasons, the last of which included an extended visit to Triple-A Fresno, being left at the minor league complex to work on your mechanics is a euphemism for trying to save your career.
Zito responded by actually adjusting his mechanics. Summoned to join the Giants in Colorado for an April 9 start, he responded with a four-hit shutout of the Rockies, giving San Francisco its first win of the season.
It was Zito's first shutout in a Giants uniform and the precursor to his best season with the team. He finished 15-8, with a 4.15 ERA.
"I feel like I've grown up in this game, you know?" Zito said. "When I came up in Oakland, I felt like I was a boy in the game. You have talent and you just keep going to the next level, and all of a sudden everyone is kind of like looking at you and there's fans chanting your name and stuff, and you're not really sure why."
Zito throughout his maturation has pitched himself off countless professional cliffs, tinkering with this, tampering with that. But he keeps climbing back up to the road, dusting himself off and getting back behind the wheel.
There is no more prestigious wheel than that which signifies starting Game 1 of a World Series.
"For him to keep grinding, as we say, and trying to get better, for him to be at this point and starting the first game, I was really glad, proud to tell him that," Bochy said. "And I told him that 'I'm glad to hand you the ball for the first game,' with all he's been through and the way he's handled it. It's been off the charts."
It's Zito's turn in the rotation, but he earned this Game 1 start. He's not the pitcher Bochy has to work around anymore, or the guy general manager Brian Sabean might consider the biggest impediment to a better roster.
Zito is the pitcher his teammates not only endorse to start Game 1 but extol as a man. It's almost as if they feel they owe him.
"If you look at Game 6 and Game 7 and break it down, Barry's game is what showed us how to win the next two," said Ryan Vogelsong, who followed Zito and won Game 6 against St. Louis.
That Zito would provide the pivotal performance, his masterpiece in the crucial Game 5 of the NLCS, is nothing short of lessons that can be applied to life.
Better to be defined not by the knockdowns but by the rising in response. And money always smells better when it's earned on merit.