- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

NEW YORK — Reporters clogged the tiny visitors’ clubhouse at Shea Stadium, and photographers clustered two-deep outside along the full breadth of the dugout. San Francisco Giants officials agreed it was an unprecedented scene this season.

Road show or freak show, circus or history in the making, the Barry Bonds act reached the big stage, New York, this week. Tuesday marked the start of the Giants’ three-game series against the New York Mets. It also was Bonds’ designated day to speak.

But Bonds — who is 10 home runs from breaking Hank Aaron’s record under a cloud of suspicion regarding steroid use — stiffed the media despite reportedly being contractually bound to talk before the first game of a road series.

Playing in the Big Apple for the first and only time this season, Bonds also sat out most of the game, making only a 10th-inning pinch-hitting appearance.

The boos began as he walked to the on-deck circle. A lusty, angry, throaty rumble resonated throughout the old ballpark. When he came to the plate, the hecklers chanted repeatedly: “You take ster-oids,” followed by clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. And then: “Barry [stinks]!”

Bonds walked and was a nonfactor in the Giants’ 5-4 loss. Reliever Armando Benitez committed a pair of balks in the 12th, followed by Carlos Delgado’s game-ending home run.

Last night, with Bonds in the starting lineup, the boos returned. It was rumored that somewhere in the park, fans were protesting by wearing blindfolds. Bonds responded by lining a single in his first at-bat, his only hit in four plate appearances.

He has struggled at the plate lately, showing his age (he turns 43 on July 24) after starting off in defiance of it. He hit .356 with eight homers and 17 RBI during April, but came into last night’s game batting .197 with four homers and eight RBI in May.

His home run drought was especially pronounced. For 14 games and 43 at-bats (63 plate appearances) Bonds was stuck on No. 745, which he hit May 8. Then he belted No. 746 on Sunday. As he crossed home plate he simulated removing a monkey from his back.

Afterward, he told reporters, “I’m fine. I’ve been here before. I look at it this way: It’s a slump. If it continues for the next five months then, yeah, age caught up with me. … I’m pretty sure I’ll be all right between now and October.”

Monday was an off day, so sitting out most of Tuesday’s game gave Bonds two straight days of rest.

“We think it’s best for Barry and best for the club to give him another day,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s been out there a lot. You’ve got to keep reminding yourself that this guy is approaching 43.”

Not playing apparently meant not speaking publicly. As Giants players navigated their way not too happily among the human obstacle course in the clubhouse, Bonds’ double lockers stood empty until he strolled in at 4:35 p.m., about 21/2 hours before game time.

He was bopping to the beat of whatever emanated from the headphones encasing his shiny, bald head. Five minutes later, Giants public relations director Blake Rhodes informed the reporters, “Barry’s not gonna speak today.”

Rhodes politely asked the crowd to disperse to give the players some room. Yet the reporters remained, inching even closer to Bonds’ lockers. Bonds seemed to smirk as he circulated and someone affiliated with the Giants remarked, “He’s having fun with this.”

At 5:35, with most of his teammates already on the field, Bonds emerged from the dugout to take batting practice.

“Barry, Barry,” chanted the small crowd behind the third base dugout. Bonds turned, smiled and waved.

As Bonds took his cuts, producing no memorable blasts, a boy about 10 years old wearing a Mets cap and T-shirt and holding a baseball and pen who somehow was allowed on the field shouted incessantly to get Bonds’ attention: “Barry! Bonds! Mr. Bonds!”

Bonds ignored him, just as he did the long-haired man standing in the front row along the third-base line. He was wearing a black Barry Zito jersey and holding a sign that read, “Barry, May I Please Have Your Autograph?”

Another fan behind home plate held a sign, too. It read, “Hey, Barroid, Not In Our Park!!!”

Breaking Aaron’s record; his combative, bellicose personality; the swirl of steroid accusations (he has never failed steroid test); and reported investigations of lying to a grand jury and income tax evasion have made Bonds the most polarizing figure in sports. On the road he is roundly booed and subjected to insults usually based on a steroid theme.

Yesterday, before Game 2 of the series, Bonds finally decided to speak. Sitting in the dugout, perched on the bench above the media crush before him, he said little of note or interest.

“I don’t really talk about me,” he said in response to the first question about whether he is enjoying the pursuit of Aaron. The rest of the session pretty much went along those lines.

Bonds was asked about baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s refusal to commit to being present for the record-breaking moment, about his place in history. Each time, Bonds deferred.

“Why do you guys want to keep repeating the same stories every day?” he said. “Let’s just talk about the team.”

Nobody really wanted to talk about the team.

Pressed on the issue of Aaron stating he would not be on hand to see his record fall, Bonds said:

“Hank Aaron’s been in the game a long time. He’s well-respected by all of us. We all love him, we admire him and I’ll leave it at that.”

During the interview, someone yelled from he seats behind the dugout, “Hey, Barry, the media’s cancer!”

Bonds smiled a huge smile and left it at that.

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