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After Goodbye

In the wake of his father's death, Barry Bonds stops by clubhouse hours before game and departs without a word, with no timetable for return.

August 25, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The far end of the San Francisco Giant clubhouse at Pacific Bell Park, that's where you'll usually find Barry Bonds. The row of four, brightly polished wooden lockers made of cherry, they all belong to Bonds. There isn't another locker as close as 15 feet.

Before 8:30 Sunday morning, long before the Giants' game against the Florida Marlins, Bonds showed up in the clubhouse, went through his locker, and left without saying a word.

No one spoke with Bonds, who lost his 57-year-old father, Bobby Bonds, to brain cancer only 24 hours earlier. Maybe he sat in the black, leather recliner he keeps in front of his lockers and was able to be alone with his thoughts for just a little while, without anyone interrupting him.

The Giants left this morning for an important trip to play the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks, but Bonds is not with the team.

Once again, the Giants placed Bonds on the official bereavement list before a 7-4 loss to the Marlins that ended a five-game winning streak.

His teammates will miss their left fielder and his 39 home runs and .339 batting average, but they understand.

Felipe Alou, the Giant manager, doesn't know when Bonds will be back in his usual place, by himself, in the black recliner and the row of cherry lockers at the far end of the clubhouse.

"What I hope is that he stays healthy mentally," Alou said. "This is the way I see it. We hide here, we hide from stuff, we hide from the world. When we come to the ball park, it is a nice place to hide from bad stuff."

Bonds sets himself apart in the clubhouse, but he also has set himself apart from all others on the field, where at the age of 39, he continues to hit home runs with a frequency and a sense of timing that may be unrivaled.

Last Tuesday, after spending four games on the bereavement list to be with his father, Bonds beat the Atlanta Braves with a 457-foot home run in the 10th inning.

Last Thursday, Bonds beat the Braves again, with another home run in the 10th inning.

It is a scene most of baseball has seen many times before. Bonds digs in at the plate, Bonds homers, game over. Only three players have hit more home runs than Bonds. His total of 652 home runs is only eight short of Willie Mays, who also is Bonds' godfather. And Babe Ruth's 714 looks reachable, with only Hank Aaron's total of 755 still in the distance.

Hall of Famer Ernie Banks isn't sure if Bonds can get there. "It's going to be difficult, but I'm not ruling it out. At the same time, he is in unknown territory. That's a tall mountain to go after at 39. But as we saw last week he is the Giant, he is remarkable."

But there will be no home runs for Bonds until after he takes care of an intensely personal and private matter, one everyone in a Giant uniform knew was coming but wished to avoid nonetheless.

"It was bad, especially the waiting," Alou said. "You wait for something that is going to happen, sooner or later."

Bobby Bonds spent 23 years in the Giant organization as either a player, coach, scout or front-office employee. He was also his son's unofficial hitting coach and shortstop Rich Aurilia says Bobby deserves much credit for Barry's success at the plate.

In the last three years, Bonds has hit .306 with 49 home runs, .328 with 73 home runs and .370 with 46 home runs. So far this year, Bonds has been routinely brilliant. He leads the National League in home runs, walks, intentional walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

His .339 average is third best in the league and he averages a home run every 8.4 at-bats.

And his father was diagnosed with cancer more than a year ago.

Bobby Bonds fought his illness with determination every step of the way. He was treated for pneumonia. He had surgery in April for a brain tumor and in late July, he had open-heart surgery.

Somehow, Barry Bonds continued putting up big numbers, engaging in his own battles on the field. How Bonds kept his focus is something that prompts Alou to shake his head in amazement.

"He is such a tough individual," Alou said. "He is greatness."

Alou said he has not spoken with Bonds since Bobby's death Saturday morning, but he knows what he would tell him when he has the chance.

"Maybe one of the best places to be is here," he said.

As the season progresses, the Giants have jealously protected their lead in the National League West, but even as they win, they have also lost.

A white grease board and eraser keep track of the Giant roster.

The player designations are active roster, disabled list and an unusual third category that has become almost standard this year ... bereavement list.

Pitcher Jason Schmidt lost his mother early in the season, took time off to grieve on the bereavement list, then returned to the starting rotation. His first game back was Mother's Day.

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