Steve Gleason Hit a HR off Barry Zito in 1999

  • By Ralph Warner
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The universe has funny ways of reminding us how essential being in the right place at the right time is. You never know who you'll cross paths with, and what they'll go onto accomplish later in life. Back on March 27, 1999, a center fielder for the Washington State Cougars hit a home run off of a promising starting pitcher for the USC Trojans.

That CF was Steve Gleason and the pitcher was Barry Zito in the Trojans' 6-5 victory over the Cougars. Up until a recent profile with Sports Illustrated's Peter King, neither Gleason nor Zito had realized what each other had gone on to accomplish in the two decades afterward.

Gleason spent seven seasons as a DB for the New Orleans Saints and has been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis since 2011. In 2014, Gleason was one of the people behind the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised awareness and over $100 million in the fight against the disease.

Zito would spend 15 years in Major League Baseball, where he won a Cy Young Award (2002), a World Series championship (2012), and was selected for three All-Star teams. Like Gleason, Zito is also involved in philanthropy, he founded Strikeouts For Troops, a non-profit organization “dedicated to giving back to our military heroes while providing the 'comforts of home' and lifting the spirits and morale of our injured troops and their families.”

Nearly 19 years after Zito crossed paths with Gleason, the former pitcher has vivid memories of the frigid conditions in Pullman, Washington that day. "I recall that game, I remember it well, Zito told King. "I had two sets of thermals on. Imagine pitching with two sets of thermals."

However, the 39-year-old's memory is a little fuzzy when it comes to the man who hit a home run off of him in the fifth inning. King began to tell Zito about all that Gleason had accomplished on the gridiron and, more importantly, in the battle against ALS. "Sounds like an incredible man," said Zito. "I want to get familiar with him. What a story."

Gleason didn't realize Zito was a highly sought-after prospect back then or that he had become an elite pitcher in the big leagues.

"I was a senior and understood that football was probably the best chance I had to play professionally. My years in the NFL, I didn't follow MLB baseball really at all," Gleason told SI. "I had no idea that Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and in fact I didn't realize that I had hit a home run off him until the WSU play-by-play commentator [Derek Deis] tweeted to me a few years ago."



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