A Shot to the Heart After a rough road trip Barry Bonds returned to San Francisco, hit a historic home run and, for a moment at least, became a hometown hero again

April 18, 2004

Giants manager Felipe Alou insisted that leftfielder Barry Bonds
wasn't pressing last week despite a five-game homerless streak
that kept Bonds one home run away from tying his godfather,
Willie Mays, for third place on the alltime list with 660 homers.
"Barry doesn't feel pressure, ever," Alou said after the Giants'
season-opening six-game road trip. That may be true, but it's
hard to imagine Bonds was feeling much joy, either, not after a
difficult week in which pitchers painted the corners against him,
fans heckled him, an outfielder robbed him, federal agents moved
forward in a steroid investigation that involves him, and
commissioner Bud Selig met with him for 10 minutes on Thursday,
presumably about the steroid issue.

The silver lining for Bonds was that his failure to catch Mays on
the road gave him the chance to do so in front of Giants fans,
which he did in the fifth inning of San Francisco's home opener
on Monday, smacking a 3-1 fastball from Milwaukee's Matt Kinney
into McCovey Cove. Mays, who had traveled with the Giants all
last week, promptly presented Bonds with the symbolic torch he's
been carrying with him for the occasion.

Mays no doubt enjoyed the trip more than his godson did, joining
in card games and bantering with reporters. Asked how much he
would earn if he played today, Mays estimated about $45,000. Why
so little? "Well, I'm 72 years old," he said. Mays has done his
best to fill the void created by the death of Bonds's father,
Bobby, last August but says he has offered no advice on the
steroid matter--nor has Bonds asked for any. "We don't talk about
things like that," Mays says, "because he knows there's nothing I
could add." Speculation intensified last week when federal agents
seized samples and drug-test results of several
players--including Bonds and the Yankees' Jason Giambi and Gary
Sheffield--from the lab that administered the tests for baseball
last year. It is expected that those samples will be retested for
THG, the steroid for which there was no test until recently. That
could determine whether Bonds or any other athlete who testified
before a grand jury last fall may have committed perjury.

Meanwhile, pitchers were making life as tough for Bonds as the
feds were. After going 3 for 3 with a homer off the Astros' Roy
Oswalt in the opener, Bonds was 3 for 16 in his next five games,
although one of those outs came when Padres centerfielder Jay
Payton snared a blast that might otherwise have been number 660.
The drought also included a pair of strikeouts on borderline
pitches from Houston's Roger Clemens. "People are really pitching
him tough right now," Alou said. "They keep changing zones, going
in and out and changing speeds. I think he's also gone after a
couple of bad pitches trying to get something going, not so much
for himself but for us."

The fans on the road were no easier on him. As Bonds walked to
the bus that would take the Giants to the airport on Sunday in
San Diego, one fan yelled, "Drop him off in Tijuana!" implying he
could buy steroids there. But if the harsh comments or his
struggles at the plate bothered him, Bonds hid it well. He
grimaced in disgust after a pop-up against the Padres last
Saturday night, but he showed no frustration in the clubhouse.
"It's going to come eventually," he said Sunday. "I'd like to do
it at home."

He got his wish, as did Giants fans, who seemed to understand how
much he needed the warmth of their welcome. When he finished his
home run trot, they stood, cheered and chanted his name as he
waved to them and accepted the congratulations of his teammates.
After a long, trying week Bonds finally had his reward: For a few
moments at least, he didn't seem quite so alone.
--Phil Taylor


"He had a sixth sense of what a pitcher needed."