SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Barry Bonds is coming. He'll put on the uniform again, just for a week or so in March as a special instructor for the San Francisco Giants, and enlighten some of the impressionable young men on the art of the line drive. He has a chance to be good at it, too.
When Bonds was a player and the best hitter most had ever seen, the Giants would have him address their better prospects during spring training. Witnesses swore Bonds would go on for an hour or more, happy for the audience, eager to help and charismatic in his delivery, so not at all the cranky and self-absorbed character he projected in the clubhouse. None of those prospects ever became Bonds, of course, because there's more to hitting than theory and weight shift. A lot more, sometimes, as we came to understand.
So there's that, and it's fine, as it's been more than six years since Bonds' last home run, and three years since he was convicted of obstructing justice, and several months since he served his 30 days of home confinement, and whatever it was he put into his body then, he's probably not contagious now.
Time passes, and for a change Bonds needs the Giants more than they need him, which is a fine lesson in life and humility. In fact, if he has any interest in returning to the game, Bonds could learn plenty from Mark McGwire, who publicly surrendered years ago and became a respected big-league hitting coach. Like the St. Louis Cardinals before them, the Los Angeles Dodgers love McGwire's effort, his ability to relate to young players, and the way he's folded his ego into broader goals. It could not have been easy. McGwire made it look so.
Bonds will be 50 this summer – a leaned-out, bike-riding, where-you-been 50. He cared more of himself than he did the game. That much is clear. And now here he is, for whatever the reason. Maybe he's bored and needs to get out of the house. Maybe he misses the game. Maybe he needs the attention. And maybe, just maybe, he wants to help. Maybe he's ready to fold his ego into something bigger than him, the first step being to admit such a thing exists.
There's no harm in finding out what Bonds has in mind, even after all he was accused of, and that he was convicted of. Though they both – the team and the man – live with their decisions of the past, his presence does not degrade the Giants. They know who he was. He knows who he was. Beyond that, he could hit, and he could relate, and he could have changed.
Does he belong here?
"If you strictly just look at the talent of the ballplayer, absolutely," said Jeff Kent, whose own term as special instructor with the Giants will end when Bonds' begins. "He's one of the best ballplayers I ever played with and against. Physically, on the field, absolutely one of the best I ever played with or against."
Kent and Bonds had their issues. They've bumped into each other since they retired. They did not fall into each other's arms. But neither did they wrestle in the dirt. Some things you just live with.
"I learned a lot from him as a teammate," Kent said. "Sure, he could be an asset, yeah. Now, whether the total package of what Barry brings is meaningful or not for the organization, I don't have an opinion one way or the other."
There's doubt. Of course there is. He cheated. He lied. He could be a jerk. But to assume a few minutes of batting cage talk is going to send a prospect into a career of illicit drug use seems rather hysterical. And to forever deny Bonds even a few square inches in the game seems rather vindictive.
This seems harmless. Besides, given a few weeks, the man could probably hit .275 in the big leagues. He hit 762 home runs (I had to look it up, which is crazy). He was really good at it, the best of our lifetimes. And if he would allow himself a moment to see the greater good, Bonds just might be able to teach a young man a few things. Like, how to do what he did. And how to avoid what he couldn't.
He's coming. They might as well make the best of it. Maybe, he will, too.