The satellite dish-equipped news truck began arriving at the courthouse nearly 20 hours before Barry Bonds was scheduled to be arraigned on perjury and obstruction charges.
When Bonds shows up in courtroom 10 on the 19th floor of the Phillip Burton federal building for his 9 a.m. hearing Friday, it will mark the home run king's first public appearance since he was indicted on Nov. 15 — and an event that's expected to draw hundreds of journalists, protesters of various causes and the just plain curious.
Bonds is expected to plead not guilty in federal court to four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction after being charged with lying to a grand jury about his performance-enhancing drug use. If he's convicted, the five charges could mean more than two years of prison time.
In an attempt to corral the horde, the court has taken the rare step of bringing the judges to Bonds rather than requiring him to appear in two courtrooms, as is often the case with routine initial appearances by criminal defendants. Bonds also will be fingerprinted and have his mugshot taken. The whole affair is expected to last less than an hour.
"It's going to be a very quick hearing," said Golden Gate University law professor Peter Keane. "He'll have the charges read to him and likely enter a plea."
U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James will serve as the warm-up act. She will introduce Bonds to the federal court system, discuss bail and then turn over the case to U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston, who will formally accept Bonds' plea to the charges.
Bonds is accused of repeatedly lying when he testified under oath that he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs. Several of Bonds' former associates are expected to contradict that testimony, and prosecutors claim to have a blood test from November 2000 that shows a "Barry B" testing positive for two types of steroids.
Bonds' defense team is expected to attack the credibility of the witnesses, who include Bonds' former mistress and a one-time business partner who had a bitter split with the slugger over memorabilia sales. Legal experts say the drug test, seized during a raid of the BALCO steroids lab, also will be subject to fierce scrutiny by Bonds' lawyers.
Late Thursday, the San Jose Mercury News reported that Bonds has added attorneys Cristina Arguedas and Allen Ruby to his legal team. Unlike his current attorney, Michael Rains, the two new lawyers have extensive federal experience. Neither could be reached for comment late Thursday.
Bonds, who is a free agent after the San Francisco Giants cut him loose after 16 seasons, has long been a controversial figure.
His surly nature and alleged use of steroids have made him a pariah during a career that is among the greatest in baseball history, but also saw him grow from a slender, base-stealing outfielder to the muscle-bound slugger.
His combination of talent and temperament is exactly what's driving the public's interest in Bonds' case.
The spectacle will continue to mount Thursday night and into Friday morning with even more television trucks setting up camp before dawn and hopeful observers lining up at 7 a.m. for a chance at one of the coveted public seats in the courtroom.
By the time the proceedings begin at 9 a.m., Iraq war protesters, abortion foes and many more will likely have gathered outside the federal building in weather forecast to be chill and rainy.
Hoping to capitalize on what promises to be a circus-like atmosphere, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will send a pair of bikini-clad "lettuce ladies" to hand out faux-turkey sandwiches outside the courthouse.
The group announced its plans in a statement Thursday: "The growth-promoting drugs given to chickens make them grow faster than Barry Bonds' hat size."