SAN DIEGO – The crowd leapt to its feet.
The ball sailed into the night, slamming into the facade on the second deck in left field. It fell straight down and was grabbed by a 33-year-old plumber from the San Diego area. In baseball terminology, he was "sitting dead red."
Barry Bonds got his fastball — a two-and-one pitch he ripped 381 feet to straightaway left field at San Diego's PETCO Park. No matter what your view on Bonds, as a guy noted to be difficult to get along with, or his ties to the steroids scandal, the home run was nothing less than thrilling. Fans who booed the slugger as he jogged into the dugout from left field after the end of the first inning were mostly on their feet cheering when he connected with number 755 to lead off the top of the second.
Flashes ricocheted from all around as Bonds jogged around the bases. The boos tried to overcome the cheers, but to no avail. As he touched home he grabbed his son and hugged and carried the teenager for several yards before meeting his teammates. Most of the crowd kept their standing ovation.
Nearby the commissioner stood stone faced, as if a trip to the dentist chair would be more
enjoyable. The crowd continued to mostly cheer. In the press box, reporters grabbed phones and started to madly type on computers. Radio reporters could be heard recounting the blast as Barry Bonds tipped his cap to the fans behind the Giants' third base dugout and walked down the steps. The energy in the park consumed even the most critical of Barry Bonds.
We have been on the Barry watch for 13 days, which includes 11 games stretching from Northern California, to a rough welcome in Los Angeles and now in San Diego. We have seen him hit 754 in San Francisco, a drive to left center. We heard the chants of "steroids ... steroids ... steroids," in Los Angeles.
Now, the team that Barry had owned throughout his career serves up the historic tie to "Hammerin' Hank," and the crowd — which includes people holding asterisks sign and wearing shirts with a scripted "steroids" across the front — mostly cheers.
I'll never forget 7:29 p.m., Saturday night, August the 4th.
From my perch in the press box above home plate, Barry stood in the batter's box, his bat with the familiar repeated jolt forward as he awaited Clay Hensley's pitch. Eight days after pulling within one of Aaron, Bonds wouldn't miss the fastball a bit up and a bit away. The crack of the bat could be heard from every corner of this new stadium as the roar crescendoed.
Upon contact, I knew it was gone. Call it a former pitcher's instinct, I guess. Bonds knew also as he watched the drive sail towards the wall. On cue from my seat, I can see the crowd almost jump out of their seats, and the press box stand to see the flight of the ball.
No one spoke once the drive landed in left. It was if time stopped for a second, even fans I would speak to later in the evening would say they didn't remember what they heard, or even what the stadium sounded like — everyone was so transfixed on such a moment.
When Bonds answered my question after the game, he said he lost the ball for a moment after contact. He also noted that he took early batting practice by himself hours and hours before any players showed up for to the park for the game, minus a few coaches. The slugger seemed more light-hearted than before and it was clear he was doing his best to act humble. He did, however, avoid any answers in regards to the steroid issue and he took a swipe at players who criticized him, by saying that baseball is a fraternity and the players need to “stick together.”
By the 8th inning, the boos for Bonds returned as he walked to the plate. The flashes from digital cameras sparkle inside the stadium already plenty illuminated from the massive lights above. Bonds would walk three times after his moment in the second inning. Each ball four would be greeted by a negative frenzy. Fans would boo and hiss that whatever their view on Bonds, they wouldn't get the chance to see 756.
Barry would be removed for a pinch runner in the top of the eighth inning and as he approached the dugout, I would say 75 percent of the crowd gave a standing ovation again — but boos were still present.
As for Clay Hensley, he becomes the 445th pitcher to serve up a home run to Bonds.
But this one, he and many others will never forget.