SAN FRANCISCO – It may have looked over, but it's not.
By Wednesday morning, the smoke from the fireworks had cleared, San Francisco Giants fans had their orange-and-black martyr to themselves, and lucky ol' Matt Murphy – the young man who found passing fame and lasting wealth by grabbing hold of a baseball among the peanut shells and beer puddles – was probably off on his next adventure.
By Wednesday afternoon, mlb.com was hawking 756 T-shirts and caps (Just like the ones Barry Bonds wore at the press conference!), along with coins, bobbleheads and hoodies, and why not outfit the whole family. A few hours later, 757 landed in McCovey Cove, Bonds giving fans who'd paid a premium for tickets days ago, then watched them become nearly worthless, a little something for their trouble.
President Bush contacted Bonds the morning after Bonds launched the home run that made him king, the moment that crystallized exactly what it is we're measuring here, the greatest power hitter in baseball history against what he hides.
When Bonds laid his spikes again on the grass at AT&T Park, crossing the same path he took in a celebration the night before, he, the Giants and the city wore the same day-after expressions.
They posed: What now?
What becomes of Bonds, the gifted, divisive and aging ballplayer whose past remains the focus of at least two investigations, one federal and the other commissioned by his own sport?
What becomes of the Giants, a station-to-station team that neither runs well nor hits for power (man of the hour excluded), a drifting organization that for years has served as Bonds' backdrop?
"It does take its toll on a team," outfielder Dave Roberts granted. "And it's definitely a weird feeling, now that it's come and gone."
What becomes of all that chases Bonds, the interrogators and the investigators, the former mistress determined to reveal her story (along with other parts of herself), the gnawing subsistence of Greg Anderson's prison time, and a confused, sometimes accusing public?
So far, the characters in the docudrama by the Bay have stayed on script, the exception being Hank Aaron, who transformed himself from the reclusive, wary record holder into the runner-up and co-star. A baseball official said Wednesday that Aaron's taped message had been "in the works since the beginning of the season." Aaron's lawyer did not return a message seeking confirmation. If true, then Aaron allowed the perception he was suspicious of Bonds to fester publicly for months. And if that was the plan, the benefit of such a strategy is unclear.
Bonds said he was not notified beforehand of Aaron's digital appearance.
"I wasn't 100 percent sure," he said. "But, after I saw Muhammad Ali [Monday night], I had a pretty good idea who the next one would be."
Commissioner Bud Selig played the conflicted authority figure from beginning to end, trudging from town to town, shoulders rolled miserably forward. His restrained statements rarely missed an opportunity to point out that what we saw and celebrated might not be real and that the uncharged Bonds was "innocent until proven guilty." In a surreally congruent touch, Selig did not attend the erasure of Aaron's record because of a previously arranged meeting with George Mitchell and his investigators. Presumably, Selig has found the change in his pockets by now, though, the truth is, he played the recent weeks well. He does not view Bonds' 756 as entirely authentic and did not pretend otherwise.
Bonds, our protagonist, sat Wednesday afternoon in the Giants' clubhouse, an East Coast ballgame playing on the big-screen television near his left elbow. He meticulously taped the handle of a new brown bat. He said he'd gone to bed late the night before, was awakened by his young daughter during the night, then arose to a call from the President.
He was, actually, in a reasonably good mood. If you were to list Bonds' top-end qualities, the ability to strip away the peripheral crises would stand right there with bat speed. It's really quite admirable. In an emotionally divided ballpark, he hears only the cheers. Among indifferent teammates, he sees only support. You've got to admit, it's a great way to live.
In a 15-minute conversation with reporters left over from the night before, Bonds said again he would like to reach 3,000 hits, said again he is babysitting the home-run record for Alex Rodriguez, and said again he would continue to play, apparently with or without the Giants.
"Because my numbers are good enough to play," he said. "When I feel … I can't compete at this level, that's when I'll shut it down. I'm still good enough to play."
Other than his batting average, which has fallen to .277 under the stress of too many home-run driven at-bats, his numbers are remarkable. He has 23 home runs, 114 walks and a .495 on-base percentage.
He called his visit with George Bush, "A nice conversation. He congratulated me. We talked for a few minutes."
Asked if Bush mentioned the grand jury that is due to reconvene soon, Bonds was incredulous.
"Are you serious?" he demanded. "Dead serious? No. Oh my God. It never ends."
No, probably it won't. There'll always be another now-what moment, another now-what story, another now-what question, perhaps even a now-what Hall-of-Fame vote. There's a lot left.
Ahead, more games and more home runs, along with more unrecognized crises. He was asked if he considered himself a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he said, "I couldn't answer that. I'm pretty sure you can answer that on your own."
And he was asked if it would bother him if, indeed, Rodriguez out-homered him.
"I don't care," he said. "It doesn't bother me. I'm satisfied with what I accomplished."
In the afternoon sun, Giants players, coaches and staff arranged themselves on risers in deep right field. They stood rigidly and grinned for a team photo, further evidence of their time in Bonds' time. Delayed by his talk with reporters, Bonds jogged across the infield, through the outfield, and climbed into the third row, second from the right.
Just before he'd left, he said he'd never considered what the day after might feel like, the record his, the chase over.
"I don't know," he said. "Everything's a new experience."