- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 12, 2004

BALTIMORE. — Barry Bonds had limited connections with Baltimore and Camden Yards before he arrived last night for the start of a three-game interleague series against the Orioles.

There was the 1993 All-Star Game in which Bonds played and the home-run hitting contest in which he took part. He led National League batters with five home runs, including a 450-foot shot, after asking when he got to Baltimore, “The warehouse? What is the warehouse?”

Then, of course, there was the man who professed to have discovered him, former Orioles vice president Syd Thrift, who was the Pittsburgh Pirates general manager when Bonds came through their system. Thrift is no longer here, but his spirit lives on in the Orioles’ stretch of 13 losses in their last 19 games.

And there was another one that I just learned about yesterday after reading Bob Cohn’s story on Bonds in The Washington Times: Baltimore manager Lee Mazzilli was the one who gave Bonds jerk lessons when they were teammates briefly in 1986, when Bonds was a rookie. All this time I thought he learned it from his godfather, the “Say Pay Me” Kid, Willie Mays.

Last night was supposed to be Bonds’ first regular-season appearance at Camden Yards, but the game was called because of rain one minute after the scheduled starting time of 7:35, which gave the Orioles about 90 minutes of soaking the people who bought concessions. They have been invited back again tonight to spend some more; the game was rescheduled for 8:30 as part of a day-night doubleheader, following the regularly scheduled and regionally televised 3:15 game.

But that didn’t stop Bonds from holding court in the Giants dugout, and he had his happy suit on. Bonds said he was the kind of guy who liked to help kids learn baseball.

“You might find me at some school or college somewhere watching kids play, seeing a kid with great potential and pulling him aside and talk to him and help him,” he said. “That’s the type person I am. I’ll be in my neighborhood, hanging out with some Little League kids or something like that and say, ‘I can help you hit.’”

It turns out he is the baseball fan’s best friend. Who knew?

“I think it is a lot more fan-friendly, which is great,” Bonds said. “The ballparks are a lot nicer for the kids and everybody. The food is a lot better. You don’t have as many hecklers in these new ballparks as you did in the old ones, where you got a hot dog and a beer and you’re mad. Now you can get some sushi or gourmet meals, and skyboxes are like penthouses. People are having more fun. Before, people would sit out in the bleachers, and it stinks, and you can’t get any good food, so what else are you going to do? Scream at everybody. That’s what I would do.”

Barry Bonds, bleacher bum.

However, he was nothing but humble — almost Zen-like — when asked whether, with 674 home runs, he will be able to surpass Hank Aaron’s career mark of 755.

“I don’t think I’ll reach Hank Aaron,” Bonds said. “I don’t think it is possible, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to play a couple of more [years] and whatever that number is at that time.”

Asked whether he believed he would catch Babe Ruth, who sits 40 home runs away, Bonds said, “I think I can do that if I can stay healthy. But Hank Aaron’s number is a long way away. That’s a lot of home runs. As you get older, it is harder and harder. I’d have to play every day, and when you get in your 40s it is a lot harder to do that. I’m just happy for what I’ve done so far.”

He comes here aware of the B&O Warehouse this time, the large building beyond the right-field wall that only Ken Griffey Jr. has hit, and that was in the 1993 All-Star Game home run hitting contest. Asked whether he thought he would hit it in this series, Bonds said, “I don’t really care about the warehouse. We don’t go for distance in home runs. We just try to clear the fence.”

Asked about all the walks he receives — 82 so far this season, 28 more than anyone else in baseball — Bonds explained how physically demanding the act of walking to first base can be.

“A walk is hard,” he said. “You are on your feet all day out there. I don’t sit down for long periods of time. I go to first, run bases, get my glove, stand in the outfield. That’s hard.”

I’m sure it is with the boulder sitting on his shoulders. The “we” Bonds referred to may be him and his head, which is about the size of a small planet. But somewhere inside there, maybe Bonds is finding serenity. When the issue of the ongoing BALCO drug investigation, in which Bonds’ personal trainer has been charged, was raised, Bonds simply said, “I don’t know BALCO, dude.”

It is the Barry Bonds Love Train. If you miss it, I feel sorry, sorry for you.

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