- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Barry Bonds needs five home runs to break Hank Aaron’s career record and, his current slump notwithstanding, it seems certain he will do it this season. The bigger question is where he will do it.

Will it be home at the San Francisco Giants‘ AT&T; Park, where Bonds for the most part is revered and adored?

Or will it happen on the road, where Bonds unceasingly is subjected to boos, demonstrations and various forms of artwork that decry his reported involvement with steroids?

Giants manager Bruce Bochy expressed the club’s preference — if not burning desire — that Bonds hit the record blast at home when he told reporters before the All-Star Game, “I know how important it would be for our fans [because of] what he’s done for this organization and for the fans. That’s why the perfect scenario is Barry hits it here.”

But it’s hard to create that perfect scenario, as Bochy added.

“He could be within one and we hit a road trip. What do you do then? Obviously I’ll try to do what’s right for the ballclub and the organization.”

Good luck with that. Although there are fans in every city who like Bonds and will cheer as loudly as any San Franciscan when he breaks the most hallowed record in sports, the road would be a nasty place for this to happen. Imagine: No. 756 soars majestically over the fence, and immediately a deep, sullen, threatening wall of sound rumbles and cascades from the seats, negative energy permeating every inch of the ballpark. Cameras catch banners that display heartwarming sentiment like “Call Hank Aaron and Say You’re Sorry!” as one sign read in Boston.

What a moment.

Fans are flocking to catch the traveling Bonds road show and to show their displeasure in various forms. Some teams have taken to censoring negative signs, but that fails to stem the overall tide. Whether the protests have been organized — blindfolds handed out in New York, asterisk signs in Boston — or individual, the message is always the same.

“He shouldn’t break the record. He’s a cheater,” said Mike McNicholas, who drove up from Wilmington, Del., to Philadelphia to watch Bonds play against the Phillies in June. “I think it’s unfair. He brings a bad name to baseball.”

McNicholas, 25, was sitting with his friend, Chris Pierce, 30, of Aston, Pa., in the outfield seats at Citizens Bank Park, not far from Bonds‘ station in left field. They waved a yellow cardboard sign that McNicholas made the night before. It depicted a player swinging a bat, except that the bat was a syringe. (In some parks, people have come dressed as syringes. It’s the favored piece of imagery.)

“I didn’t think we were going to get this in,” McNicholas said of the sign. “But [the guard] looked at it and laughed and said, ‘Good sign.’ ”

The booing and taunting were constant from the moment Bonds trotted to his position in the bottom of the inning to when he trotted off. It’s the same when he hits — on-deck circle to batter’s box to base path or dugout — the same path accompanied by the same soundtrack.

“Cheater! Cheater!” a fan in left field in Philadelphia cried.

“Natural, baby! Natural!” a guy covered in tattoos yelled, flexing his left biceps and pointing to it.

Bonds, who has repeatedly stated he ignores fans’ opinions, stood with his back to the agitators and actually doffed his cap to Mr. Biceps. Occasionally, he turned and faced the seats, scanning the crowd. Last year, McNicholas said, he gave the fans the finger behind his back.

“Get out of here, Bonds!” someone yelled at the end of the inning.

And so it goes, at every stop.

“I don’t hate him,” Pierce said. “He’s just not a media person. And what about all the players who are maybe using [steroids]? He hasn’t been proven guilty yet. But I won’t be happy if he breaks [the record].

“He didn’t do it on beer and hot dogs,” Pierce added, referring to the way Babe Ruth purportedly fueled himself for his run to 714 home runs.

A few weeks ago, Charlie Vascellaro left his home in Baltimore and set out for Boston, where the Red Sox were playing host to the Giants. He took along a sign his friend helped him make, 18-by-36 inches on foam board, folded, displaying a baseball with No. 755 written on it. A syringe was poking the ball, drops of liquid spilling out from the red seams. Written was “The Needle and the Damage Done,” the title of a Neil Young song. Vascellaro also put together a video on YouTube with the same song.

He held up the sign high at Fenway Park, where fans clutched asterisk signs and booed incessantly.

“Oh my God, the entire ballpark was covered [with signs],” said Vascellaro, a freelance writer who specializes in stories about baseball and travel and who also is the author of a children’s book about Aaron. “There were big, multiple person bed sheet-types of things.”

Vascellaro has belonged to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), worked for the Babe Ruth Museum and did public relations for a minor league club. Some might call him a baseball purist; Vascellaro, 43, simply calls himself a fan.

“One thing we were careful to do with the sign, it was obviously directed at Bonds, but it was also directed at the whole steroid issue,” he said. “What I was trying to say was, it’s a shame that it’s come to this. Everyone looked away for 20 years.”

But Bonds is singled out “because he is the unfortunate poster child for all of this basically because he’s the best player of his era,” he said.

Then there is Aaron’s record itself, “something I hold so sacred,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing where reality and mythology come together for you because his accomplishments are so mythic. Specifically, the adversity he had to face. His battle was a real battle on so many fronts.”

Bonds “is messing with the whole time-space continuum,” Vascellaro said.

A less cerebral assessment of Bonds was offered at New York’s Shea Stadium before the Giants started a June series with the Mets.

“I think he’s a joke,” said Jason Worob, 36, of Pearl River, N.Y. “He was a Hall of Famer to begin with, and then he had to cheat.”

Worob’s friend, Tom Cameron, said he has a different take on the Bonds matter.

“I think he’s innocent until proven guilty,” said Cameron, 36, of Piermont, N.Y., noting that Bonds has never flunked a steroid test nor admitted to knowingly taking steroids. “But he’s never gonna get a fair shake.”

Reid Colligan, 20, from New Canaan, Conn., and a student at the College of Charleston, said he believed “most certainly, yes,” that Bonds used steroids. So did Dan Pennachio from Carle Place, N.Y., who waited with his sons, Dan, 11, and Matt, 8, to see Bonds play against the Mets only to learn Bonds decided to sit out.

“I’m disappointed,” said Pennachio, 41. “I would have liked to have seen him play.”

Pennachio was asked whether he would consider the new home record tainted.

“Yes,” he said. “But I feel we’ll never really know how many players took performance-enhancing drugs.”

Did Bonds, in his opinion, take steroids?

“Yes, I do think he did,” Pennachio said. “But it was part of the game. It was swept under the rug. It’s not just Barry Bonds.”

Bonds played the next day at Shea, and Daniel Kramer was waiting. Kramer, who runs the Web site Boycottbarry.com, traveled from Los Angeles to hand out thousands of blindfolds, or “Bondsfolds.” They were quickly snapped up. He has visited other parks, too, and like others said, this isn’t just about Bonds.

“Other sports have figured it out, and baseball is still trying to hope that fans are stupid and will keep watching their teams being represented by dishonest achievements,” Kramer told the San Francisco Chronicle, Bonds‘ hometown newspaper. “That’s what all this activism is about — this is wrong, and we’re not OK with it. And if the commissioner and Congress and the players union are not doing anything about it, we will.”

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