SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Barry Bonds sat Monday morning on a patio deck at Scottsdale Stadium, in the uniform of the San Francisco Giants, the organization for which he played 15 years and hit 586 of his record 762 (I had to look it up again) home runs, and so began the gentle and seven-day-long public rehabilitation of the man and the former ballplayer Barry Bonds.
Yes, he said, he should be in the Hall of Fame. "Without a doubt," he said. No, he said, he would not take this opportunity to address what he may or may not have put into his body when he played. "I already went to court," he said. Yes, he said, he regretted what became a tense and adversarial relationship with the press. No, he said, he could not have been otherwise and been as good at the game as he was. Yes, he would call his manager "Bochy" a couple dozen times in a 20-minute press conference, an event in which the man sat approximately six inches to his right. No, he would not refer to him as "Bruce" or the more affectionate "Boche" at any point. He laughed a lot, mostly alone.
"I'm just a different character now," Bonds said. "I was a different character playing. … I needed that guy to play."
He's still capable of "crazy," he said, but now, "Same person, but different character."
His career, transcendent and controversial, ended with a wispy puff of surrender. Some would call it a stiff arm from the sport. "I don't know what 'blackballed' really means," he said. Others would call it comeuppance. Time passed. So did court dates. Some home confinement. (He has appealed. Again.) A couple Hall of Fame ballots have come and gone. Two championships for the Giants, about the first of which, he said, "I was almost in tears." And then at 9 a.m., with a slow gait and an almost hesitant smile, he strolled into a clubhouse that had been bustling for hours – chirped, "Morning guys!" – was fitted for a new uniform, poured coffee into a blue cup, and became a special instructor and semi-professional batting cage leaner.
Neither the Giants nor the game imploded, and I checked. Minor leaguers were not forced to draw straws to decide who among them would carry Bonds from the parking lot to the clubhouse. Mike Murphy, the veteran clubhouse man here, ran some new pants into the coaches' locker room – "So, 35 waist?" – and third-base coach Tim Flannery stuck out his hand and said, "How are you?" – very pleasant like – and come batting practice the people around the dugout shouted Bonds' name and he waved back and smiled. The day was just the day, and what comes of it is anyone's guess.
Bonds did not dismiss the idea that he might one day want to coach fulltime. That's a big jump from seven days on the back fields of spring training. His goal here, he said, is to help whomever wants help, and to feel a week of coaching in his legs and on his psyche. He's selling his place in L.A., and has moved to San Francisco, and in some ways he sounded as though he was ready to start over, whatever that might mean.
He can't restart without a full and frank conversation about his past. And, legally speaking, it wouldn't seem he has that option. At least not at the moment. And he can't be sure how many organizations, even this organization, would be willing to listen anyhow.
So this week will pass in a vacuum. The happy and approachable Bonds will come to work and talk hitting. As much as he is capable, he will fold himself into what they do here every day, what they did before he floated in and what they will do when he floats out. Bonds is smart. He knows this stuff. Nobody was better in a batter's box, not ever, and maybe that will translate and take hold here.
"Hopefully, I'll be part of this for longer," Bonds said. "But for seven days, please do not hesitate. From the younger guys to the veteran players, pick my brain. Wear me down for seven days."
And then, "Hopefully, in the future something can come out of this. But right now I'm only here for seven days and I don't even know if I'm good at it. I'll let Bochy determine that."
At that point he'll return to being Barry Bonds, 49 years old, the amateur cyclist, Barry Bonds the system fighter, Barry Bonds the felon, Barry Bonds the holder of a record no one seems to believe in, Barry Bonds the "Hey, whatcha doing with yourself these days?"
"It feels really good to be back," he said. "It feels good to participate in this and give back to the game I love."
Love, in the present tense. Maybe this will work. Maybe an apology is coming, for those who require such things. Maybe we haven't seen the last of Barry Bonds.
But for the game to love him back again? I don't know.
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