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It's a glove-hate story for Bonds

Dodgers fans don't like the Giants slugger, but they're trying to cash in on a record homer.

August 02, 2007|Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Relative to other parts of Dodger Stadium, the right-field pavilion was quiet Wednesday night.

Everyone was waiting for The Ball.

Some in the section booed or chanted obscenities whenever Barry Bonds stepped into the batters' box. Some cheered the San Francisco Giants' outfielder.

But most of the pavilion population seemed less concerned with making noise than it did with positioning itself to grab a valuable piece of sporting history: The baseball that Bonds would hit to equal Hank Aaron's major league career home run record of 755.

The fans rose in unison as Bonds was introduced over the public-address system before his first at-bat in the second inning. Ten-year old boys and 60-year-old men held out their gloves, aware that the left-handed hitting Bonds could pull the ball their way. People crowded the front railing, and flooded the walkway that divides the upper and lower sections of the pavilion. Many pulled out camera phones. Others went beneath the pavilion to the concessions area, figuring the ball could fall short of the bleacher seats and land there.

Seeing pitcher Mark Hendrickson fall behind 3-and-1 in the count, 21-year-old Dodgers fan Asher Rumack patted his glove and said, "There we go, fastball down the middle."

Two pitches later, Bonds flied out to right field. There was slight moaning and weak applause throughout the pavilion.

"That was exciting," Rumack said. "I've never experienced anything like that, the energy."

But the evening ended with fans booing in frustration when Bonds was intentionally walked in the eighth inning and replaced by a pinch runner. Bonds failed to hit a homer, going 0 for 3 in the Giants' 6-4 loss to the Dodgers.

A Bonds home run ball would be more than a souvenir. No. 755 could be worth from $50,000 to $75,000 and record-breaking No. 756 $400,000 to $500,000, according to Brandon Steiner, the chief executive of memorabilia company Steiner Sports.

The prospect of the payoff is why brothers J.P. and Noel Espejo of Van Nuys were in section 304, row U Wednesday night. They hoped to use the money from the ball to pay off the mortgage on their condominium.

J.P. Espejo said of Bonds' alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, "I'm a little bit suspicious, but it doesn't affect my desire to catch the ball."

John Gamm of Upland doesn't consider himself a baseball fan and hadn't been to a Dodgers game in more than five years. But he sensed a couple of months ago that Bonds would be nearing Aaron's record in this three-game series that concludes tonight and bought a pair of $35 right-field pavilion tickets for each of the games.

His guest Tuesday night was his father-in-law, John Valenzuela. Valenzuela likes baseball, but he even he admitted that he probably wouldn't have been at the game if not for the possibility of catching a cowhide-covered lottery ticket.

Gamm said if he got a ball, he would donate part of the money to youth organizations and buy new equipment for the high school football team he coaches. The rest, he said, would be used to pay off his house and buy a car.

Gamm said that Tuesday night, as a crowd assembled in the walkway in front of him, someone looked back and jokingly told him, "If the ball comes over here, you better hold onto it for dear life."

Gamm and Valenzuela said that if either of them caught it, their plan was to "run like hell and meet in the car."

When Bonds hit his single-season record 73rd home run in San Francisco in 2001, one man gloved the ball for an instant, only to be swallowed up by a mob. Another man emerged with it. The two battled in court for a year to determine ownership of the ball. (They were told to split the profits 50-50.)

Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch said that if Bonds hits a home run in the series, security would be at the scene of its landing "within seconds" to escort away the person who caught it. In addition to stadium security, seven LAPD uniformed officers were in the right-field pavilion Wednesday night.

Mark Smith of South Pasadena and his nephew, Scott Edwards of Chatsworth, had thought of a blocking scheme. If the ball had come high, the taller Edwards would have reached for it while Smith blocked low. And if it had come low, Smith would have gone for the ball while Edwards blocked.

They had planned to split the profits 50-50.

"I'd probably be a good guy and sell it back to Barry," Smith said. "But there would be some zeroes attached."

Armando Fajardo, who was seated in the second row of section 308, had an extra baseball in his pocket that he planned to use as a decoy if he caught a Bonds ball. He would hide the real one, he said, and throw the fake onto the field.

Travis Loock's strategy was to "curl up in fetal position" and wait for help. Loock, of Fullerton, said he wanted to use his earnings to pay off the six-figure debt his wife accumulated while attending optometry school.

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