SAN FRANCISCO – It is a game perfectly suited to Barry Bonds.
And a morning, perhaps, not.
In the second-floor ballroom of the old St. Francis Hotel, accompanied by fellow National League All-Stars, surrounded by interrogators, chased only by what he chooses to recognize, Bonds spent an hour Monday morning jousting with the "third-party influence" – his words – and admiring the 2.3 million "friends" – his word again – who pushed the buttons that put him here.
As he said, "My town. My friends. My people."
This game, Tuesday night, all these folks looking in, the sacred record out there somewhere – this is about Bonds and the people who put him here.
This is the rest of America seeing a beloved Barry, a deserving Barry, a Barry soaked in orange-and-black adulation.
He told you so.
"I'm excited," he said, "I have two million friends you all didn't know about."
He'd have kept hitting his home runs either way. He'd have passed Hank Aaron, with or without Hank, with or without Bud Selig, with or without a bandwagon.
But, this? This is clearly better. At 42, at 751, at 2.3 million, this is the referendum on what came before or didn't, depending on how one separates the facts from the lies, the reporting from the agendas.
He wore a gray vest over a white dress shirt and an understated tie. Silver cuff links. He sat before a dark blue velvet drape. He worked up a smile and left it there as long as he could.
He said the boos don't bother him. He said the criticism doesn't register.
Then his voice tightened. His eyes narrowed.
"Do you know me?" he snapped. "What have I done? Have you seen me do anything wrong? I asked you a question. Have you seen me do anything? So, how can you judge me?"
"No," he said. "I played the game. It's a game. This is just a game, man. We're not saving lives or doing anything more important. We're just playing a game. A game. And the only difference from a child playing this game and us is age. Why should we be treated any different? You wouldn't tell your child, 'You suck.' Would you? You wouldn't want anyone else to tell your child, 'You suck.' Or, 'He sucks.'"
A head shake.
"We're just trying to do the best we can," he said. "That's all we're trying to do. We wish we could rewind the tape – take, cut – and come up with a big hit every single time we do stuff. We can't. We can't. It's not going to happen that way. But you still want to be treated with the same kind of respect that you'd want to be treated with. I have no rights to judge you when I don't know you. I have no rights. I come to you with an open hand. If you slap it away, I can say I don't like you. You shake my hand, brother, we'll talk."
San Francisco, the Giants, the 43,000 packing this little brick ballpark every night, they've taken his hand.
Aaron, it seems, is not so sure. Selig is still working it out. The rest, can we judge by the fact he'll bat second, play beside Carlos Beltran and Ken Griffey Jr.? Does the baseball nation not believe? Or not care? Or do Giants fans cheer Bonds for the same reason New York Yankees fans applaud Jason Giambi? Because he is theirs. Because he is the best player on a team that would win less without him. Because they don't care what anyone else believes.
"I'm not treated bad on the road," Bonds said. "My thing is, I feel disappointed. And some of those fans are influenced by third-part judgment and have not given me that opportunity just to know me. The fans here know me. The fans outside of the city only see me three days. To judge me based on a third party, that is what disappoints me. … Yet, I've actually done nothing wrong to you. I've gone to your stadium and just tried to entertain you. I've just tried to play my game the best I can. And you've let a third party influence you and your opinion of who I am."
Bonds' peers – most of them – say they are in. And who would need the grief of being the guy who popped off at Bonds' game? They say they're glad to be here with him, glad to see him show up and choke up and swing away.
"This is big," Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. "Seven hundred and fifty-six home runs. Seven hundred and fifty-five home runs. I mean, it's crazy. I'm behind him 100 percent. But, when he gets caught, I'm leaving."
Hunter laughed, clearly joking.
And then he said something like it again.
"I don't think it's fair," he said. "The guy hasn't been convicted of anything. You haven't found anything. Find something, I'd be right there with you."
He laughed again.
It's safer when you laugh.
Not that it would matter to Bonds, he said. Laugh, doubt, whatever. This is not validation, he said. Not close. It is not vindication, he said.
Save that stuff.
"I'm not trying to have the last laugh," he said. "This isn't a game, man. This isn't a comedy. This isn't a joke. I'm not playing a game. You know, you want the truth? Speak the truth. Let's go."
"I'm going to have the best time of my life here," he said. "I've had the best time of my life here in San Francisco. … You can't turn my friends against me."