If its lonely at the top, imagine how rough it must be at 9-16 with a 5.35 ERA?  LHP Barry Zito is two years into a $126 million contract with San Francisco that even Mike Hampton considers to be one of the most ill-advised free agent signings in history.  “A False Spring” author Pat Jordan interviewed Zito for tomorrow’s edition of the New York Times’ Play Magazine, and we find the hurler at odds with envious former teammates, a contrived boho persona (“œI was a rookie when ESPN TV wanted to do a feature on me about the stuffed animals, the candles and the pillows. The pillowcases were real because my mom had read that fuchsia pillowcases help your psychological brain waves. I don™t know if it works. But the stuffed animals and candles weren™t real”), Giants fans (“actually, I think the San Francisco fans have been pretty good to him, says Dave Righetti. œIf he was in New York, the fans would be off the chart”) and his own sense of self.

Zito told me his pitching problems were caused by the fact that he hadn™t been himself the last few years.

œI wanted to be more ˜professional,™  he said. œThis new guy. Because of the Contract, I wanted people to know I was serious about pitching, not this flaky guy. I allowed the seriousness of things to creep into my mind. The city. The Contract. The fans. My new teammates. I wasn™t a blue-collar Oakland guy anymore.

I was a white-collar guy on a white-collar team in a white-collar city. I stopped surfing. I stopped bringing my guitar on the road. But now I have to get back to that ˜age of innocence,™ when I realized how big things were and out of my control, and I just surrendered to it. I always played baseball because I loved it, not all these other reasons. By not being myself in life, I stopped being myself on the mound. I tried to throw harder than was natural, be finer with my curveball. It™s a struggle for someone who™s super-aware, like me. It would be a blessing to be a typical jock. He paused, then added: œIt™s not like I have to think my way back to innocence or anything. I just have to think my way back to that free-spirited kid in Oakland who wasn™t thinking about serious things, like the Contract.

But at 30, that œfree-spirited kid is gone forever. Zito said: œI can™t trust people anymore.”