SAN FRANCISCO Barry Bonds used to commit any spare time before games to lifting weights, working meticulously to build up his leg strength for long nights of standing in left field and on the basepaths following his many walks.
His bum right knee no longer allows it. He is carrying a few extra pounds around his middle and vows to spend the offseason bringing his playing weight down from more than 228 pounds to about 200.
''I'm going to be skinny,'' said Bonds, who weighed 185 pounds as a rookie in 1986 but has not been near 200 for many years.
Such a drop is hard to imagine for the imposing Bonds, who steps into the batter's box with his body armor and proceeds to crowd the plate. But doctors have told the San Francisco slugger he must lose weight to protect his fragile knee, which required three surgeries since Jan. 31 and sidelined him for most of eight months.
Considering the way Bonds has been aching after his first four starts, he is likely to listen.
''I want to get my legs strong again,'' Bonds said in an interview Friday night with The Associated Press and MLB.com. ''Hopefully I'll train hard all winter. I can hit it, but I don't feel like I feel when I'm strong. I can tell out there. I'm older now. It's harder.''
This has been a trying year for the 41-year-old Bonds, who hit career home run No. 704 in the Giants' 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. He didn't start Saturday his customary practice for day games after night games though he was available to pinch hit.
Bonds still defends his powerful swing against anybody else's in the game, though he acknowledges he no longer might be able to hit homers at the same rate he has in recent years.
''I may hit the ball 410 feet and the next one isn't going to go 410 feet,'' Bonds said. ''Maybe I'll grab my ribcage. That's life. I'm OK with it.''
His knee probably will never be the same, either.
Many think it's remarkable it only took Bonds 11 at-bats to hit his first home run in 355 days, since connecting for a solo shot against the Dodgers' Jeff Weaver on Sept. 26, 2004. But this is Bonds we're talking about.
He is third on the career home run list, 10 shy of tying Babe Ruth (714). After that will come the pursuit of his hero, home run king Hank Aaron (755).
''To see Barry here, knowing he's going to go back to the same guy ... you never knew if he was going to ever play again,'' manager Felipe Alou said. ''It's a good feeling for the guys.''
There have been plenty of times this year Bonds thought he might be done, frustrated with his painful knee and how it immobilized him. He just doesn't bounce back the way he did in his 20s or even his 30s.
Had he never been able to return and resume his chase of Aaron's record, Bonds wouldn't have known what to do. He wants to walk away on his own terms, not with an injury dictating his path.
''For me right now, it would be devastating,'' he said. ''I know I can still do something and my leg is preventing me. That hurts. ... So be it. I can't hang on forever, man.''
Just how strong his knee is he won't know until the offseason, when he really tests it and tries to regain strength in his legs.
Shortstop Omar Vizquel is eager to see how fans react to his teammate on the road, where Bonds can expect plenty of chatter about steroids.
Though Bonds never has tested positive for performance-enhancing substances and repeatedly has denied using steroids, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Bonds testified to a federal grand jury in December 2003 that he used substances prosecutors claim were performance-enhancing drugs.
''People want to see everything,'' Vizquel said. ''They want to see him. They want to boo him. They want to watch him hit a home run. He's kind of like a Tyson fight. They don't care about the guy much, but they always want to see him fight. But it's not that people don't care about Bonds.''
Bonds looks at recently retired Jerry Rice the NFL's career touchdowns leader as the example of longevity in professional sports.
''He could still score touchdowns. And I bet Joe Montana can still throw touchdowns,'' Bonds said. ''As an athlete, your time's going to come and your time's going to go. I can outrun you once, I just can't do it three, four or five times.''
When his day does come to call it quits, Bonds insists he will walk away and not turn back.
''The same thing when I went to high school, I graduated and said bye,'' he said. ''I left college and said bye. That's the same thing I'll do now, say bye and do something else.''
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