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Bonds Still Not Acting His Age

After 17 major league seasons, the 38-year-old Giant slugger believes he has more successful seasons left in him

March 23, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Bonds constantly thinks about his age, wondering just how long his 38-year-old body will allow him to play at this level.

In recent years, the San Francisco slugger has been so tired once the season ended that he told himself there was no way he would come back for another.

Yeah, right.

Not Bonds. Not when there is so much he believes he can still accomplish. The same exhaustion Bonds fights when each season ends somehow turns to new energy come January, and he regains whatever it is that has fueled him for 17 major league seasons.

"I'm not going to lie. I just hope the expectations aren't as high," Bonds said. "But you know what? I'm always up for that challenge of what I can do. There are a lot of things I can't do that I used to be able to do, but there are a lot of good things I do more than bad."

Bonds won a record fifth MVP last season. He finally reached his dream of playing in a World Series, losing to the Angels in seven games. He hit .370 to earn his first batting title, and became the oldest first-timer to win the hitting crown.

Bonds has seemingly done it all -- except win a ring.

As Bonds and his wife, Liz, left Anaheim after the Series, she reminded him that all he ever wanted was just to play for a championship -- he never did wish to win it.

"She said, 'You asked God your whole life to be in the World Series, and you got your wish,' " Bonds said. "I said, 'You're right, I did. Why didn't I wish to win? That was really dumb.' "

Bonds is setting his sights higher this year, hoping he will finally be a champion. He has only one concern heading into the season.

"Yeah, age," Bonds said, laughing. "Slow it down. Slow the aging process down. I feel great. It's really weird because every season after the season, I say, 'I can't do it anymore, I'm tired,' because it's such a long grind. And I get to that January month and that adrenaline starts kicking in again. I just feel grateful that I'm able to do what I'm doing this long."

This year, Bonds is feeling his age in a different way. His 57-year-old father, Bobby, is battling lung cancer at home in San Carlos after already going through surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his kidney last year.

Bonds left spring training for a couple days to return to the Bay Area and support his dad through a chemotherapy treatment.

"He's got a good heart and does anything for anybody," said Mike Murphy, the Giants' clubhouse manager, who has been with the team since it moved to San Francisco in 1958.

"If you're down and out, he's the first to help you."

There's one other accolade Bonds is seeking to cap off his career: becoming the home-run king. He's just not sure opposing pitchers will let him do it.

He was walked a record 198 times last year, including 68 intentionally. Many of the intentional passes came in situations unique to Bonds. He was walked with the bases empty, with first base occupied and in almost every scenario imaginable.

The walks took a toll on Bonds -- physically more than mentally. He reached base 356 times last season, homering 46 times.

Those 310 other times kept Bonds on the bases instead of resting in the dugout. Bonds admits the extra time on his feet affected his play in the outfield, which is no longer Gold Glove quality.

A couple of misplays by Bonds in left field helped Anaheim rally from a 5-0 deficit to beat the Giants in Game 6 of the World Series.

The walks also will make it more difficult for Bonds to hit the 143 more homers he needs to pass Hank Aaron's career record of 755.

"Hank ain't out of reach. He's not out of reach," Bonds said. "He might be out of reach for me, but he's not out of reach. With all the times that they've walked me, I'm still hitting 30-plus home runs."

Bonds might play down the chance of adding the all-time home run title to the single-season mark of 73 he set in 2001. But those close to him know how important it is to him.

"That's a defense mechanism," former Giant Manager Dusty Baker said. "If he doesn't get to it, then it won't be as bad. But he wants it. I like the fact that he hasn't really said it. He's been very humble in the whole situation."

Bonds passed Harmon Killebrew, Mark McGwire and Frank Robinson to move into fourth place on the all-time home run list with 613, leaving him only 47 behind his godfather, Willie Mays.

"You don't want to put pressure on him," Mays said. "Let him deal with the pressure. He'll do it."

Bonds spent much of his childhood trailing Mays and climbing around his locker at Candlestick Park. Now, some people call him the best hitter ever in baseball.

His past two seasons just might be the best back-to-back years a player has ever had. He set the record for home runs and slugging percentage (.863) in 2001. Last year, he set marks for walks and on-base percentage (.582.)

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