Updated Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 10:46 PM
Barry Zito arrived in Seattle cognizant that he had been bestowed a prestigious honor, but not yet aware of the full scope of being a Hutch Award winner.
Zito left town with these words: "I'm on board. This is a cause I'm involved in now from here on out."
What won him over was a day immersed in the work of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Zito toured laboratories and met with scientists and researchers before receiving the Dale Chihuly-designed sculpture that goes to the Hutch Award winner.
At one point during his visit, Zito listened to a scientist talk about advancements in cell research that are leading to the regeneration of diseased lungs.
"It was surreal to even hear that," Zito said during his acceptance speech at Safeco Field. "To be in the lab today where these cures are actually devised is something so beyond anything we could ever do in our little sports world.
"It has been incredible to see firsthand."
Zito, who helped pitch the Giants to their second World Series title in three years, is the 48th Hutch Award winner, which goes to the player who "exemplifies the honor, courage and dedication" of Seattle native Fred Hutchinson, a former major-league player and manager.
Hutchinson died of cancer at age 45 in 1964, and his brother, Dr. Bill Hutchinson, started what would become a world-renowned research center in Seattle.
Former Mariners manager Lou Piniella was the keynote speaker during the ceremony, a fundraiser for early cancer detection research. In front of an audience that included former winners Jamie Moyer, John Olerud and Dave Dravecky, Piniella said of Zito, "I can't think of a player more worthy of receiving this award."
Zito's primary philanthropic cause is the nonprofit organization he founded, Strikeouts For Troops, to provide the comforts of home to injured soldiers. But he vowed to support The Hutch, both financially and with his time.
Zito was particularly touched by the moving speech of leukemia survivor Ryan Kiggins, who was diagnosed at age 30 with a rare and aggressive form of the disease. Kiggins talked of how his ultimately successful battle, aided by Fred Hutchinson doctors, strengthened his faith in God and humanity. Kiggins ended his speech by thanking leukemia for giving him a focus that provided strength during his arduous stem-cell transplant.
"I'm really inspired by Ryan and how he was thanking his adversity," Zito said. "That's a lesson I had to learn probably too many times in the last handful of years. Sometimes, when there's adversity, instead of resisting it so hard and getting emotional, you can learn a lesson. There's gifts in that."
Zito, who had struggled to live up to his seven-year contract in San Francisco, pitched eight shutout innings against the Cardinals to keep the Giants alive in the fifth game of the National League Championship Series. He then won the World Series opener over Detroit to send the Giants on their way to a sweep.
With the Giants down three games to one in St. Louis, "My only goal was to go out and give everything I had and to know if I was going to be sitting at home in the offseason for four months, I wasn't going to be saying, 'What if?' " Zito said.
"It was just about going out and doing my best. All of a sudden, the blessings came through in droves, and it took us all the way to a World Series sweep.
"I feel so blessed and honored to be receiving any award, because a lot of people gave up on me. This is the cap of it all here after this great offseason. To be honored here is just so humbling."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Barry Zito's primary charity is for injured troops.