Hurry up ... and wait
Barry Bonds did not hit a home run today, but then you already knew that. Because, had Bonds jacked No. 754 this afternoon, the sheer force of the accumulated media vying to inform you of this fact might have toppled you where you stood. Television, laptop, cell phone, Blackberry; the electronic messengers of BondsWatch bleet and scroll and refresh until their dirty deed is done. There is no escape, either. If ESPN could find a way to send Pedro Gomez to your door to personally deliver the news, it probably would. He might even bring you a cool fleece.
When 300-odd news organizations dispatch employees to cover an event that turns out not to be one, this is what you get. There are two options: write about what did not happen (in this case, a home run) or find something else to write about, hopefully not the same angle that one of the other hundreds of hard-up scribes chooses. So we get a creative effort about other Americans named Barry Bonds from Yahoo! Sports writer Jeff Passan, who tracked down a bunch of old white guys named Barry and gauged their feelings about steroids. Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a nice story on the Authenticator, a San Francisco police officer who marks up the potentially-historic balls delivered to Bonds (turns out the Authenticator has a background busting counterfeiters). A number of scribes, including SI.com's lovably rumpled Richard Deitsch, have written about Giants broadcasters Duane Kuiper, Jon Miller and Dave Flemming, and how they are preparing to make the historic call ('you can't script it,' is the consensus). There are stories about fans who've flown cross-country to be at the games, stories about Barry's long-time BP pitcher, stories about how Bonds is wilting under the pressure. There are even stories about the stories, one of which you're currently reading.
There is a sense that our presence must be justified -- both we, the media, and you, the fans, who choose to pay attention to otherwise meaningless Giants games in late July. Since there is no deadline, though, this is an open-ended event, one that could stretch into mid-August. And what would we do then? What if Bonds were to play out the season and not break the record. Would networks continue to cut in for each at-bat when it's mid-September? Would people still line the right field stands with gloves in hand, hoping for an airborne retirement fund? Would hundreds of journalists still tail him from city to city? And if they didn't, why not -- would newspaper travel budgets dictate the coverage? 756 will be 756 no matter when it comes. Yet how long does our interest, or outrage, endure? Eventually, anger subsides into indifference, as does enthusiasm. Is it possible Bonds will break this record and we'll be all cared out?
This is an unlikely scenario, of course. Bonds is healthy and playing most every day and, every once in a while, even putting the ball in fair territory. Today, he went 1-4 with a double against the Braves, continuing his trend of taking monstrous cuts that translate into weak foul balls. Braves starter Buddy Carlyle served up one fastball after another, most in the 92 mph range, and Bonds did little with them. He managed one impressive at-bat -- in the bottom of the seventh, he lined an Oscar Villarreal pitch to centerfield and legged out a double, after which he was pulled for a pinch-runner. And with that, thousands of fans at AT&T resigned themselves to not witnessing history and hundreds of men and women in the press box resigned themselves to recording this fact. Because, really, what else was there to record? Well, the Giants did win the game, 4-2, to pull within 14 games of .500. Also, it was a warm afternoon that turned foggy, Dave Roberts had a nice day at the plate and at least one fan in the lower section wore a hat with a giant felt hot dog on top (note to self: story idea about silly hats worn during Bonds chase?). As long as Bonds' non-homering continues, the non-news coverage will continue apace. So we'll get breathless reports such as the ones today that Gary Sheffield likes Barry Bonds and Ozzie Smith does not. Thank goodness someone found out. And, the longer we go, the more opinions we'll hear. Curt Schilling has already weighed in, so now it's presumably a matter of time until the rest of Blowhard Nation has a say. Surely Rosie O'Donnell has some fascinating insights to share.
To be on the BondsWatch feels akin to what it must be like to cover the presidential primaries early in their gestation. Hunched over and vacant-eyed, we in the press box track the inconsequential lead-up to an event, looking for meaning in places it may not reside, assigning significance to the insignificant. John McCain wore a sweater vest today -- it's news! Barry Bonds showed up late to the clubhouse -- print it! The only difference is that with the primaries people know not only when they end, but that they in fact will.