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San Diego shows class in difficult situation

August 05, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- A proud man can endure only so much.

Boos, sure. Taunts, fine. Asterisks, whatever.

Scott Hairston mocking you? That, my friends, is enough.

History could wait no longer. People come to see Barry Bonds hit home runs, not Scott Hairston.

The man who would be the greatest home run hitter in baseball history suddenly could not hit a home run. Hairston, a light-hitting utility player for the San Diego Padres, hit three home runs in three at-bats -- two Friday, then another in the first inning Saturday.

And then, in the second inning, on his very first swing of the evening, for the first time in eight days and 19 at-bats, Bonds hit one.

He knew instantly. We all did.

He stood at home plate, admiring the flight of the ball. He dropped his bat, and with it the pressure that had wrecked his swing and compelled him to attend a remedial hitting session Saturday afternoon.

He took a few steps, slowly, then trotted around the bases, into the waiting arms of his son, Nikolai, and into the record book. Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, tied at 755.

San Diego did itself proud. No chaos, no projectiles, no rudeness.

Baseball's official ambivalence toward Bonds and the record left the Padres' fans in charge of the celebration, without anyone letting them know ahead of time.

This was old-fashioned baseball. No public address announcement. No fireworks. No rock anthem blaring. No animated hands clapping. No interrupting the game for a ceremony.

Any fanfare would be up to you.

As Bonds circled the bases, the Padres' scoreboard listed the all-time home run leaders, in alphabetical order.

1. Hank Aaron, 755.

1. Barry Bonds, 755.

3. Babe Ruth, 714.

4. Willie Mays, 660.

That was the full and complete extent to which the Padres acknowledged history. The fans took it from there.

"It has been a fun ride. I really appreciate the way San Diego handled it and the way their fans handled it," Bonds said.

There was one spoilsport in the crowd. Commissioner Bud Selig stood, hands in pockets. Selig has all but branded Bonds a cheater because of his alleged steroid use and has not spoken with him in years, and he had the "I'd rather be anywhere else" look usually worn by a teenager forced to attend a family reunion.

The rest of the fans were, dare we say it, nice. With no official announcement, the moment was understated and dignified.

There were flashes, from cellphones and digital cameras, from every corner of Petco Park. There were boos, but they were drowned out by cheers.

Bonds hugged and high-fived his teammates, kissed his wife and daughter, raised his helmet to the crowd.

Ryan Klesko, the next batter, appeared determined to give Bonds every last moment of glory. Klesko walked toward the batter's box, then back toward the dugout, then waited.

Bonds was done. He did not emerge from the dugout for a curtain call. Klesko waited a little longer, shrugged and headed to home plate.

The whole thing took two minutes. The moment spoke for itself. In an era where teams hire entertainment directors to bombard fans with light and sound rather than letting them enjoy the game, it was truly refreshing.

After the Giants made their three outs, Bonds took the field, and the fans rewarded him with a standing ovation. Some stood to boo, some stood to wave asterisks, but most stood to cheer.

Not that he was not booed otherwise. He was booed relentlessly, to be sure. But the loudest boos of the evening were reserved for Clay Hensley, the Padres' starting pitcher.

Hensley wanted no part of 756. After the home run, Hensley walked Bonds twice. Bonds batted once more, in the eighth inning against Heath Bell, and walked again.

He left for a pinch-runner. The fans bid him farewell with another standing ovation.

This worked out well for baseball, surprisingly well. In a park where a fan tossed a syringe at him last year, no one threw anything at Bonds. There was no ugly scene, no scary attempt at vigilante justice, no replay that would live in infamy.

Now Bonds has one week to break the record at home, the way it should be. The eyes of a sporting nation turn to San Francisco. You stay classy, San Diego.


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