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Barry Zito impressed by passion and fire of Gable and Smith during trip to Iowa

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - He just became the richest pitcher in major-league baseball history.

So what in the world was new San Francisco Giants left-hander Barry Zito doing hanging out in northeast Iowa this weekend?

"Trying to get better," said Zito, a Cy Young Award winner who just signed a seven-year contract worth a whopping $126 million.

Zito and a friend were talking about some of the world's top athletes a couple months ago and the topic turned to legendary wrestler and coach Dan Gable.

"I wasn't real familiar with wrestling until recently," Zito told reporters Saturday while attending the National Duals. "I heard about Gable's background and Olympic dominance, and then I heard about John Smith. I have a friend who helps me with some of my mental stuff and we were just talking about different athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, and then Dan Gable and John Smith came up in that elite classification."

Coming to the National Duals provided the perfect setting for Zito to meet two of the biggest names in the sport's history in Gable and Oklahoma State coach John Smith. Gable coached against Smith during OSU's 22-13 win over Iowa in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Zito attended Oklahoma State's practice on Friday and talked with Smith, who has guided the Cowboys to five NCAA titles. Smith was a two-time Olympic Champion and four-time World Champion.

Zito attended the opening of the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum on Friday night in Waterloo. Zito chatted with Gable and toured the spacious facility.

Zito spent Saturday watching the wrestling at the National Duals from the stands and then down on the floor in the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. He was walking around barefoot on the artificial turf in the UNI-Dome on Saturday and was seen chatting with Hodge Trophy winner Ben Askren of Missouri. Zito said he planned to return to watch the final day of the event on Sunday.

So what did Zito talk with Gable and Smith about?

"We just got in their heads a little bit and tried to see what makes them tick," Zito said. "Seeing the fire and passion those guys have, and their determination to win and what they want to accomplish, is something I can draw off."

Watching a wrestling tournament in the Midwest was a new experience for Zito, who pitched for the Oakland A's before signing with the Giants last month.

"It's great out here," Zito said. "It's a new state, I've never been out here. I'm just taking it all in."

Zito said it's been a good learning experience.

"Just to get into the atmosphere of a totally different sport, but still a very intense sport," Zito said of what he's learned. "It's physically demanding and intimidating and all those things that all the great athletes go for."

He even sees similarities between baseball and wrestling.

"Wrestling is an individual sport, but it's also a team sport," Zito said. "Being a pitcher is a little bit like being a wrestler because it's kind of one-on-one and an individual thing where the pitcher faces a hitter in baseball. You feel pretty lonely on the mound sometimes and that's probably what these guys feel like on the mat."

Zito came away impressed with the museum.

"That museum is awesome," Zito said. "I feel like I've taken a crash course with all this new stuff and all the names and terminology. It's been fun."

Iowa City Press-Citizen reporter Andy Hamilton contributed to this report.
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