San Francisco cheers as Bonds contemplates life after 600

Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO -- The morning after Barry Bonds joined one of baseball's most exclusive home run clubs, he wandered through the San Francisco Giants' clubhouse carrying a large wicker basket.

''You guys want some pot stickers?'' Bonds asked, lifting the lid to reveal an incredible number of the Chinese appetizers.

There were a variety of responses at Pacific Bell Park to Bonds' 600th homer, which put him in the company of Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays as the only major leaguers to reach the mark.

Bonds, his wife and his father all felt relief. Jay Arsenault, the man who got a bloody face while catching the ball, saw dollar signs.

The Giants' front office responded with pot stickers, a meat-filled delicacy. The fans simply appreciated it, blanketing Bonds with cheers on Friday night and Saturday, when Bonds stayed in the Giants' lineup to contribute to their playoff chase despite a torn hamstring that prevents him from sprinting.

''We all need to play,'' Bonds said. ''We're down to the part of the season where it's gut-wrenching time. ... I don't worry about the history right now.''

The atmosphere from Bonds' latest magical night hadn't evaporated on Saturday -- and neither had his penchant for making history.

Bonds broke Willie McCovey's major league record for intentional walks in a season, drawing three against Pittsburgh to give him 46 this year. McCovey had 45 in 1969 with the Giants.

At Pac Bell, the emblem on the left-field wall honoring Bonds' homer achievement will be a constant reminder of his 421-foot solo shot in the sixth inning against right-hander Kip Wells, who got the win in the Pirates' 4-3 victory.

Bonds rounded the bases against a backdrop of roars and fireworks. His father, Bobby Bonds, probably breathed a sigh of relief that he wouldn't need to travel to Atlanta next week to continue the chase.

As Bonds walked through the tunnels underneath Pac Bell after the game, he signed several autographs with one arm while holding his daughter in the other. Two female fans walked away speechless, while others screamed at the sight of Bonds.

''I see myself in 50 years talking about this -- talking about Barry, and what I saw,'' said Shawon Dunston, Bonds' teammate and friend. ''I'm glad he did it. He was starting to press a bit in each at-bat.

''People just don't appreciate him. You need to appreciate him. This is old-time baseball. This is Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Joe DiMaggio. He deserves to be honored like them.''

Nevertheless, Bonds hadn't even hugged his daughter when the questions began: Just how far can Bonds climb on baseball's career homers list?

Bonds, who turned 38 late last month, says he won't play beyond the length of his current contract -- a five-year deal he signed prior to the season. But his balky hamstring notwithstanding, Bonds is still in phenomenal physical condition, and there's no reason to think he can't continue at something close to his amazing homer pace over the past two seasons -- particularly after an offseason of rest.

''Every year it gets harder,'' Bonds said. ''It's tougher on me.''

At this point in his career, Bonds has seen so many pitchers and so many pitches that he doesn't need to consult scouting reports. He simply looks for pitches to drive -- and with reflexes that only a few men in history have matched, he does it over and over again.

''I have a zone, and if you hit it, I'll hit it,'' he said simply. ''I was born to hit a baseball.''

If Bonds has a decent finish to the current season, he should be closing in on Mays' 660 homers next summer. Bonds and Mays have been close from the day Bonds was born -- the Say Hey Kid is Bonds' godfather and idol, of course, but they also are good friends.

''It's really hard to go after someone that you put on a pedestal so high,'' Bonds said. ''I love it that he gets all over me that I haven't (caught) him. It's a great topic of conversation for us. It's such fun to know that he's better than I am.''

There's at least one mark set by Mays that probably won't top.

Bonds is fourth on the career homers list, but he's also fourth on the Giants' franchise list. After hitting 176 in seven seasons with the Pirates to begin his career, Bonds has 424 in San Francisco -- trailing Mays (646), Mel Ott (511) and McCovey (469) with the Giants.

But try telling that to the current generation of Giants fans, who haven't seen a championship team since 1954. To them, Bonds is the soul and identity of their beloved franchise -- even though he isn't the most lovable star around, and even though he still yearns for a World Series ring.

''He's the best player I've ever seen,'' Dunston said. ''I realized it in 1996. He hits his home runs too easily. We just take him for granted because he hits them so easy.''

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