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L.A. Would Have Appreciated Him

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Midnight is approaching and Bobby Bonds, father of Barry, has put in another long day at the office. A light-tar cigarette droops from his lips and an open can of low-alcohol beer occupies his locker. Yet another San Francisco Giant baseball game is in the books, one that his son has thoroughly dominated, and a pleased but exhausted Bobby sits back, relaxes and says: “I’m not his father until right now. Until the game is over, I’m his coach.”

Elsewhere in the clubhouse, Bonds fils is in a hurry.

“Gotta go,” Barry says, hitting and running. “Gotta go see my family. Excuse me. Can’t stay anymore. Gotta go see my grandmother.”

Some who have been viewing Giant games all season testify that Barry has always gotta be someplace. This particular night, after a two-homer, seven-ribbie demonstration of his majesty, the San Francisco superoutfielder cannot wait to split from the visitors’ dressing room of Dodger Stadium and avoid further discussion of his evening’s deeds. One night earlier this season at home, Bonds sidestepped the mob by saying: “Excuse me. Gotta go to the opera.”

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With the days having dwindled to a precious few, Bonds & Son are straining along with the rest of the Giants to keep the fat lady from warbling. They played their penultimate game of the season Saturday at high noon, not a dozen hours after Bobby and Barry excused themselves from the premises--one patiently, the other abruptly--after Game No. 160.

Their long, long season has come down to today. In Saturday’s do-or-almost-die game at Dodger Stadium, the resolute Giants held off the Dodgers, 5-3, to stay tied with Atlanta. Bonds was more of a decoy, with three walks, two intentional.

Don’t be amazed at anything Barry might do today.

This being the ever-popular Fan Appreciation Day here in the cheery little gully of Chavez Ravine, all we can do is imagine how much the fans would have appreciated having Barry Bonds in their outfield on a daily basis. He sold himself to the highest bidder, but the Dodgers had neither the money nor the interest. Then they ended up paying the penalty--having to pitch to him.

From the first step he took in left field Friday night, Barry would say later: “The fans were all over me, calling me bad names. Then I take a couple of balls out of the park and all of a sudden they’re calling: ‘Oh, Barry! Barry! Barry!’ ”

Two kinds of name-calling.

That’s the way it works when you suddenly have become baseball’s stick of dynamite. At the plate he has become Barry the dinosaur, big as Barney. Nobody knows how to attack him. The Dodgers pitched around him and put him on base, then pitched to him and watched the bases promptly empty. One of their pitchers Friday even made the regrettable goof of grooving a 3-and-0 delivery to Bonds.

“Where’d he put it?” Barry was asked.

“The wrong place,” he replied.

The double he sent screaming toward the fence in left center was the latest in a long line of line drives by Barry, standing up there at the plate waggling that bat of his, choking up on it, doing that little jitterbug in the batter’s box that looks like Mel Ott crossed with a flamingo. His father, asked if Barry has always held his hands and jiggled his foot this way, sends up a proud puff of smoke and says: “Since he was 2.”

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A quarter-century of big league ballplaying by the Bondses is being celebrated today, Bobby Lee having broken in with San Francisco as an outfielder in 1968, Barry Lamar making his debut in the show midway through the 1986 Pittsburgh season after first laboring through a couple of months of pleasant duty with a farm club in Hawaii.

As a child, son of a star and godson of Willie Mays, he was a prodigy whose progress was monitored from afar. Bobby Bonds says: “There were plenty of games I watched through the windshield of my car, let me tell you. It was important that he do it on his own, without me crowding him. I’d park my car near the field and not let him know I was watching him hit. The boy could always hit.”

“Could he pitch?” Bobby is asked.

“He did, until he was 12.”

“What happened then?”

“What happened then,” Bobby remembers, “is that I wasn’t stupid enough to let somebody who doesn’t know anything about baseball teach a 12-year-old boy to bend his elbow throwing a breaking ball.”

Barry Bonds is now a man of 29, a diamond in his left earlobe and baseball diamonds on the soles of his shoes. He is the greatest player in the game today and in a terrible rush to get wherever he is going next. Here is someone for a true baseball fan to appreciate.

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