The Giants will raise their 2012 World Series championship flag Friday afternoon before playing the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park. Then they'll take the field behind the guy without whom, in all likelihood, there would be no ceremony at all.
Barry Zito has been nonchalant about starting the Giants' home opener Friday - and that it comes against the Cardinals, the team he shut down in Game 5 of last year's National League Championship Series to prevent the Giants' elimination and start the string of seven consecutive wins they rode to their World Series title.
The reception for Zito figures to be a bit more exciting than he expects, if the last time he left the mound at AT&T Park in a meaningful game is any indication. It was Game 1 of the World Series, and Zito, jogging off in the sixth with a 6-1 lead, slowed as he reached the Giants' dugout and quickly tipped his cap to a crowd that stood and roared in appreciation.
"Barry really worked hard to get back to what he wants to be and where he wants to be," fellow Giants starter Tim Lincecum said. "He's earned a lot of respect from obviously the fans and players alike. So with that it'll be exciting to see it."
Zito's turnaround season, which began in minor-league spring camp and ended with him as playoff savior, was a heartening tale to teammates, who laud his work ethic and the way he handled being left off the Giants' playoff roster during their first title run in 2010.
His success last season may have had an even larger effect on fans who never let Zito forget his $126 million contract while he labored through five losing seasons.
Still, Zito said Thursday he isn't thinking about his welcome home.
"I'm not expecting them to react in a certain way," Zito said. "The fans have treated me really well in the last year. There's only been a few that have kind of been callous over the years. The majority of them have always been good to me, so I'm just expecting the fans to come out and have a great time, really enjoy the festivities.
"I've got to focus on my work. If I can do that, they'll be happy."
Zito said he has gotten better in recent years at embracing support and blocking negativity. There was a lot of the latter during his more trying seasons, and he admits it was hard not to notice fans' ire on "social media, reading articles, hearing what they're saying when I'm out there."
Asked if it bothered him, Zito said: "In a human way, of course. It doesn't feel good.
"But right now it's just about me focusing on what I can control, and I can't control people's reactions. I give them all the freedom to cheer, to boo, whatever they want to do."
The cheers increased last season as Zito went 15-8 - his most wins since 2006 - with a 4.15 ERA. And then he shut out the Cardinals over 7 2 / 3 innings in St. Louis to send the NLCS back to San Francisco.
After struggling in the spring last season, Zito made his first start at airy Coors Field and threw a shutout. The Giants won Zito's final 14 starts in 2012, too.
"Going into my first start," Zito said Thursday, "I'm pretty much where I was last year."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said that when ordering his rotation this spring, giving Zito the home opener wasn't really a factor. Putting him in the fourth spot allowed Bochy to break up left-handers Madison Bumgarner and Zito.
"But I will say with what he did last year for us, it's great to have him going in the home opener," Bochy said. "He should feel good about it."