Barry Bonds's day in court dawns cold and windy, but the air smells good, like justice.
The arraignment starts at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in downtown San Francisco, but word has it that the first 30 people in line at seven get courtroom seats. Being a sports fan and an American, I'll line up for anything: free kabob samples, $9 ballpark Bud Lights, the chance to meet a WNBA cheerleader. Count me in!
On the sidewalk, an impromptu discussion of Barry's next destination.
Man on street: "Which team is he going to?"
The waiting line is unimpressive -- only 17 of us, and a good dozen are media. What was I expecting? Fans camping out as if Jerry Garcia had risen to play one last night at The Fillmore? Candlelight vigils? Not a chance. This is the same old freak show, and San Franciscans know it, you know it and I should have known it. Reporters interview reporters being filmed by bloggers; PETA protesters in lettuce-shaped bikinis prance like politically correct showgirls; and every TV truck within 500 miles idles, waiting for the money shot.
And there he is! Barry arrives. Suit draped more than worn, he looks reassuringly big and scowly, like some caricatured WWE villain entering the ring. Ladies and gentlemen... Triple HGH! Behind him trail the bodyguards of the Bonds legacy, six of the legal world's finest, fees mounting by the footfall. If I were a law groupie, I'd be squealing.
Finally in the courtroom, Bonds's heavyweight six knock gloves with the government's featherweight four. It doesn't feel like a fair fight, but the way Barry stands there, preening and smirking, you wonder if he might be too cocky to listen to his cornermen, too angry to retreat an inch.
At least the prosecution is itching to get into it. There's Matthew Parrella, the assistant U.S. attorney, hard-eyed and full of coiled energy and italic hand gestures. And behind him Jeff Novitzky, the 6' 6", bald-headed IRS special agent who has trailed Bonds for years, looming like some moon-pale undertaker come to collect his due. They are real-life cartoon characters, imposing, ready.
They better be. The government's got a lot riding on this. The grand juries, the years of Dumpster-diving investigations, the untold cost -- this is about credibility, about not just carrying but wielding that big stick. For Bonds, it's not hard time at stake, it's legitimacy. "Why do I need to cheat, I'm already good," he boasted in 2002, and narcissist that he is, he really wants us to believe it. To him, the only fate worse than incarceration is marginalization. Cutting a deal means admitting something, anything, and that's not an option. This is no O.J. we're dealing with. Barry's book is, and forever remains, If I Didn't Do It.
That's when it hits me. We thought the Bonds saga was over, but we're just getting started. Be warned, though, this is not for the faint of heart. Hide the kids and lower the shades, because this is going to be a messy trip if it goes to trial, and it's going to drag on for months if not years.
We're going to get to know Barry, the real Barry, and if that doesn't scare you, then, well, we thank you for your service in Iraq. Get ready for Kimberly Bell, Bonds's Playboy-posing mistress, and welcome Messrs. Giambi and Sheffield. There'll be trainers who won't talk, bitter business associates, tarnished track stars and, at the center, the home run king with the only head large enough to wear a crown so heavy. Forget who's right, who's wrong and who's making a mockery of whose judicial system. One side is going to get its comeuppance, and either way -- arrogant athlete or the U.S. government -- it will be great theater.
On this day, the arraignment's over in a half hour: some intros, some haggling, a not-guilty plea to four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. In the elevator afterward, Novitzky and Parrella are anxious to leave. Only the door won't shut. So Parrella, after forcefully addressing the judge, now does the same to the DOOR CLOSE button, jabbing at it like it's a reluctant witness. Unsuccessful, he waves his hand over the sensor, muttering, "Let's get moving!" Then, to show the government's might, or perhaps to prove the U.S. of A. doesn't back down from any challenge, he grabs the rubber on the inside of the door and starts yanking it. Hard.
"Uh, Matt, not a good idea," says Novitzky.
Both men stare at the still-open door.
"I'm getting off," Novitzky says. "This is a bad omen."