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CHASING AARON / 754 AND COUNTING / BILL PLASCHKE

Misery loves company as Dodgers fans bond together

August 01, 2007|Bill Plaschke

You want records? We've got records.

Earliest heckling.

The moment Barry Bonds stepped into the cage for batting practice Tuesday afternoon, some fat guy began breathlessly shouting, "Ster-oids" as he walked in from the parking lot.

Longest heckling.

When Bonds dug into the batter's box for his first at-bat, he was booed for two solid minutes, from first pitch to last pitch, from the top of his biodome-sized helmet to the bottom of his pajama pants.

Oddest heckling.

Imagine Ramon Martinez's surprise when he walked to the plate in the second inning and was surrounded by 50,000 people chanting, "Bar-ry [bleeps], Bar-ry [bleeps]."

And so the celebrated home-run chase began its strange trip through Dodger Stadium on Tuesday amid much awkward huffing and uneasy puffing.

Bonds, as you know, is the San Francisco Giants outfielder who is one home run from catching leader Hank Aaron with a career 755 home runs.

On this night, the only thing that left the park was the joy that should be accompanying the moment.

And the only thing Bonds caught was a bunch of hell.

None of this was unwarranted or unexpected, but all was in stark contrast to the celebratory mood last week in San Francisco, and a steely reminder of things to come.

You can bring the baseball commissioner (good job, Bud), you can pop a thousand camera flashes (the place looked like Disco Ravine), but outside the vast spaces of Northern California and Bonds' head, this party is sadly no party.

What should be a march is a trudge.

What should be a celebration feels like a wake.

There is no guest of honor, only an enemy of the people.

Bonds struck out on a check swing in the first inning . . . booo . . . was intentionally walked in the third inning. . . booo . . . was unintentionally walked in the sixth inning. . . booo . . . and popped up ball four in the seventh inning.

When Rafael Furcal appeared to lose the ball amid all the flashing lights, Bonds was safe at first on the error. He promptly unstrapped his body armor and disappeared into the dugout.

Thousands booed, then bolted.

So went one of the most misery-laden baseball games I've seen this season, with two more scheduled for Dodger Stadium this week, then three in San Diego this weekend.

It was so dour, the highlight was watching Steve Garvey on the video screen, asking fans a multiple-choice question whose answers were Snow White, Rapunzel or Fiona.

You haven't lived until you've heard Garvey say the word, "Rapunzel," but that's another story.

It was so distracting, I had to check just now to give you the final score, Giants 3, Dodgers 1, second place here, Brad Penny showing his temper, Dodgers showing their youth, long road ahead.

But that too is another story.

This game was about the guy who was booed for catching a line drive, booed for not catching a line drive, booed for making an out, booed for scoring a run.

Last week in this space, I advocated silence as the proper response if Bonds' record homer was hit here.

Like that's happening.

"He is just not liked by very many people," said Dodgers coach Rich Donnelly, who was with Bonds for seven years in Pittsburgh.

Donnelly said it not with a sneer, but a sigh, because at some point, this entire circus becomes demeaning not only to the record, but the game.

Tuesday didn't make anyone want to feel sorry for Bonds, whose years of bad behavior have beckoned this scorn.

But more than once, Tuesday made you want to feel very sorry for baseball.

"Watch this," said Donnelly before the game, pointing to Bonds as he was being followed by hordes of cameras. "Right about now, he'll say something smart."

Sure enough, a minute later, the cameramen shrugged, turned away from Bonds, and headed in the opposite direction.

"See?" Donnelly said. "Sometime people just don't like being around him."

It was the same scene in the clubhouse earlier, where Bonds sat at his locker while three dozen media members stood around him.

We didn't look at him. He didn't look at us.

Nobody really wanted to talk to him. He certainly didn't want to talk to us.

But we couldn't miss anything he had to say. And while he was sitting at his locker, he could certainly say anything.

Thus, in what is becoming a regular scene in this sideshow, reporters and Bonds battled to this mental standstill for more than an hour, remaining several feet apart while in entirely different worlds.

We watched and waited as he put on his socks, pulled up his pants, talked to a clubhouse kid, spit in a water bottle, watched women fighting on a clubhouse TV.

He watched and waited as we talked to each other about our jobs, our children and that 240-pound elephant in the middle of our lives.

Occasionally a reporter would approach him for a question, and each time he appeared to dismiss it with a frown.

Finally, feeling silly about this whole thing, with the clubhouse closing in a few minutes, I approached him.

"C'mon Bill, you know I'm not answering questions," he said.

But he was smiling, so I asked anyway.

"Are you dreading the boos?"

"You know I love that stuff."

"What if they start throwing things?"

"Doesn't matter."

"You don't want to hit the home run here, do you?"

"Yes I do."

''No you don't."

"Yes I do," he said, smiling again. "It's Hollywood."

Yes, it is.

The Unnatural.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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