Sunday, January 21, 2007

For Bonds, Even His base at Home May Be Eroding

Barry Bonds, right, who has yet to finalize a contract with the Giants, was absent from their Fanfest on Saturday. He instead took part in the Juan Marichal Golf Classic.

The New York Times
Published: January 21, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 20 — As he joined the crowd walking across Lefty O’Doul Bridge to AT&T Park, Robert Pool, a 48-year-old Giants fan, let loose: “It’s disgraceful that an icon is headed to the Hall of Fame who was doing drugs.” An icon, he added, “who the kids look up to, an icon who failed a drug test that nobody wants to talk about.”

Pool, a Little League coach for 17 years, was referring, of course, to Barry Bonds, who has been slugging home runs and patrolling left field for the Giants since 1993. Even here, among his die-hard fans, support is waning for the player they simply call Barry.

Thousands of fans streamed into the park Saturday for the Giants’ Fanfest, an annual gathering that was held at the ballpark for the first time this year.

Some of the players attended, although Bonds, who has yet to sign a contract for next season, was a no-show. Still, most of the fans in attendance said they assumed he would be hitting home runs into McCovey Cove again in 2007.

“It’s like a bad relationship,” Gregory Imura, 27, said. “You kind of ride it out and hope the good times you had will come back again when he leaves.

“I love the Giants,” Imura added, “but I don’t love him.”

The front office has gotten the message. As he signed baseballs during the event, Peter Magowan, the team’s managing general partner, said he was aware that Bonds was facing a growing number of critics in the only major league city where he had been popular in recent seasons.

“I think it changed since the end of last season,” Magowan said. “There are more against him than there have been in the past.”

Despite reports that Bonds tested positive for amphetamines last season and claimed a teammate as the source, Magowan said that ticket sales for 2007 were unaffected.

For all the disaffection with the 42-year-old Bonds, who needs 22 home runs to break Hank Aaron’s career record, he still remains something of a hero to many fans in the Bay Area.

“If he can help us win, then he’s still our Barry,” Felicia Haggarty, 27, said.

Her husband, John, 28, added, “We might as well see him to the end.”

Doris Thiessen, who stood for hours for a glimpse of the players who did attend Fanfest, said: “Bonds is San Francisco. He’s a big part of why people come.”

Bonds was not expected to be at Fanfest, and he was not. Even if his contract had been signed, the fans knew that sitting and signing for free was not something Bonds was likely to do.

At a table set up for autographs, fans swirled around a handful of players, especially shortstop Omar Vizquel. “You’re my hero, man,” one teenager called out.

Nearby, Ronald Lopez, who owns a pizzeria, was nursing a beer and contemplating the new season.

“When Barry breaks the record, all these people who say they hate him, they’ll stand up and cheer,” he said.

Others looked to the past instead of the future.

“The team wouldn’t be where they are without Barry in the last 14 years,” Julie Orender, 47, said. “The ballpark wouldn’t exist without Barry.” AT&T Park opened in 2000.

Conor Armor, a ninth-grader from Santa Cruz, expressed the conflicting views of many in the Bay Area when he said: “Barry doesn’t have a whole lot of morals. But I still love to watch him.”

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