Talk about a curveball! Fans of the FOX competition show “The Masked Singer” got a bit of a surprise Wednesday night when The Rhino was eliminated as one of the show’s final four contestants.
Underneath The Rhino’s mask wasn’t long-time country star Trace Adkins, like some judges had thought. It wasn’t Sam Hunt, either, the college football-player-turned-country singer that some fans had guessed.
It was Barry Zito, the former Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants star. He was a Cy Young winner, a World Series champ and now — in a twist not many people would have seen coming — he outlasted the likes of Bret Michaels, Lil Wayne, Chaka Khan, Tony Hawk, JoJo Siwa and, yes, even Sarah Palin on the popular show.
Zito retired from Major League Baseball after the 2015 season and has since launched a music career. So keen baseball fans who picked up on the show’s mind-bending clues had figured out that The Rhino could be Zito. But it was still a surprise for many of the show’s devoted fans.
It was also a new look at the former ace for anybody who wasn’t aware of his music career. He put out an EP last year called “No Secrets” and has a new project due out by the end of the year that he says will surprise some people. Last week, he put out a cover of Kenny Rogers’ “The Greatest” tied to a Grammys project about baseball-influenced songs.
Yahoo Sports caught up with Zito, the day after his “Masked Singer” reveal to talk about his experience on the show, his music career and which ex-teammates knew it was him.
Yahoo Sports: You ended up being a surprise reveal for a lot of people. What do you make of the reaction to you being unmasked?
Barry Zito: I don’t know too much of the reaction, but I was just looking around online a little bit. I think some people had me pegged and they knew my voice. But it’s kind of funny seeing people’s reaction, like, What kind of world are we living in right now, Barry Zito on “The Masked Singer.”
There was a contingent of baseball fans who were convinced The Rhino was you all along. Did it feel good knowing the baseball people were with you?
The baseball community, we know our own. I think they knew that I had some music out. Some people were like, “I knew all along.”
You made the final four. You outlasted Gronk, JoJo Siwa, Bret Michaels. How did you think this would go for you vs. how well it did?
In the beginning, I told myself: “Have fun and don’t get eliminated on your first song.” I definitely achieved both of those things. Every week that went by when I wasn’t eliminated, I was floored. I never expected to get to the top four. I wasn’t upset when I got unmasked. It feels like the final three have been on stages their whole lives.
When they approached you for the show, were you immediately into it or did you need some convincing?
I wasn’t immediately like, “Oh yes, I want to get in a mask and make a fool of myself on TV.” It was scary at first, but my wife was super supportive she said, “This is was a once in a lifetime opportunity. You will grow so much from this.”
What was the worst part of the costume?
It was so hot in there. We just had layers and layers of clothing underneath. A lot of times you were in that costume for 30–45 minutes at a time, just overheating in there.
I enjoy how sly the show is with the clues. Did you have a favorite baseball-centric one where you thought, “This will give it away.”
The three quarters were interesting — it’s 75, my jersey number. Cutting the sliders, the little tiny hamburgers. Even though I didn’t throw a slider, I threw a cutter. The coolest one, that I don’t think anybody ever figured out, there was a lump of coal in a stocking. That was because my parents worked with Nat King Cole.
How many old teammates or coaches figured it out? Were you hearing from them?
Oh, absolutely. Matt Cain was the first one to be hot on the trail. He was like, “Dude, I’m watching this show, this really sounds like you. Are you The Rhino?” I’d tell him, that’s crazy, what show is that? It was pretty fun to try to figure out strategies to make them think I had no clue what they were talking about.
Was there anybody you were surprised to hear from? Someone you didn’t expect to watch the show. I can’t imagine Bruce Bochy watches “The Masked Singer.”
Bruce Bochy actually texted me today. He said, “Hey you did a great job, super awesome. Congrats on the new baby.” A lot of my folks on the Giants and A’s have been texting me.
What do you hope this will do for your music career?
I think for me, it just gives me confidence that I can hold my own. Although singing on stage is not the main thing that I do. Writing songs and producing is the thing I’ve always wanted to do. I came out with a song last week, a cover of an old Kenny Rogers song. I think the show really gave me the confidence to be authentic in who I am musically.
I think all we can hope for when we’re listening to music is that the person really means it.
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