The circus is in town
AT&T Park has odd vibe as Bonds chases HR history
Posted: Monday August 20, 2007 10:28AM; Updated: Monday August 20, 2007 10:28AM
SAN FRANCISCO -- First, the pertinent information. Barry Bonds went 1 for 5 with no home runs on Tuesday night at AT&T Park as the Giants lost 7-5 to the Braves in 13 innings. Throughout the evening, Bonds swung like a man playing backyard Wiffle Ball, unleashing a series of great sweeping roundhouse hacks, each one intended for immortality, or at least what passes for it in sports these days. His best cut of the day came in the fourth inning, when he hit a very long single to right field off Tim Hudson. Other than that, it was just another entertaining if ultimately meaningless Giants game in late July, one more loss piled on top of the 56 already accrued.
Not that you'd know it from wading through the fans here in San Francisco, who are arriving at this homestand ready to play their role in history. Yesterday there were 10 kayakers in McCovey Cove -- and that was an hour before the game began. A temporary platform has been erected in right centerfield to accommodate the cameras, a Bonds pagoda of sorts, and it appears from a distance to be floating upon a sea of Patagonia fleeces. These fleeces are connected to men carrying beer cups in one hand and gloves in the other. Normally mitts are a relatively rare sight at AT&T, a park that by dint of its popularity and proximity to downtown draws a breed of fan that could charitably be called "casual Giants supporters" and might be more realistically called "corporate happy hour."
Here on the brink of a record, though, San Franciscans have made a point to pay attention. Not because 755 and 756 will be milestones for the Giants, the hometown team for which those in attendance have theoretically bled orange and black, but because of what the home runs confer upon those present. These are not people who've come to watch a home run but to catch one (which explains all the brand-new mitts, many of which look as if they were liberated from the Sports Authority only hours ago). And who can blame them? Nothing would be truer to the spirit of Bonds himself, who embodies Ayn Rand's belief that "man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress," than for the fan who snags the ball to milk it for all its worth. Hell, even the players are thinking dollar signs. "Well, hey, if I catch one of his next ones in the bullpen, I'm selling it," says Giants reliever Steve Kline. "What's going to be worth more? 755? 756?"
So the fans file into AT&T each night and eat the jerk chicken plates with pineapple salsa, toast each other's moral fiber (for being more interested in excellence than judging Bonds) and make sure to be at their seats when Bonds comes to the plate. It is a quite a sight to behold, so many thousand on their feet -- and they all stood on Monday and, for the most part, on Tuesday - and the flash bulbs popping so that, as Omar Vizquel puts it, it's "like a rock concert out on the field." At the conclusion of each at-bat, AT&T appears to contain a dozen small rivers all running uphill, as fans file to the concessions stands -- regardless of whether the inning is over or not -- to lay in supplies for the next 20 minutes, until the next Bonds moment. On Tuesday a good 20,000 of the crowd waited out four hours of baseball, and a crazy ninth-inning Giants comeback, to see Bonds get one final, sixth at-bat. With a halo of seagulls circling above and the clock past 11 p.m., he walked.
Down in the clubhouse, there is an air of impatience. Everyone, it seems, wants to get this over with. On Saturday in Milwaukee, Bonds told the media he wanted it done, "as soon as possible," which most took to mean, "as soon as possible, once I get back to AT&T." So when he arrived on Monday and let loose during an impressive batting practice session -- three home runs in 25 swings, including a parabolic shot into McCovey Cove -- many thought it might be the night. But facing John Smoltz and Rafael Soriano, he never got the ball out of the infield. Tuesday was Bonds' 43rd birthday, and he received a surprise visitor. Bud Selig made his way to the ballpark, making a brief foray into a suddenly-claustrophobic press box to explain his presence, saying he felt it was "the right thing to do" and that it was better "than sitting at home watching the game." Still, the results for Bonds were the same. The 753 sign in right center field remains.
As ready as the Giants players and fans may be for this record run to end, perhaps they should consider the alternative. It is easy to forget, sitting in a packed ballpark on a weekday night in July, that this is it for this team, and this man. There are no more milestones left, at least not MLB ones (and Sadaharu Oh's 868 homers appear distinctly out of reach), and at 41-57 the Giants are so far out of the pennant race that a late-season run is unlikely. Furthermore, this is a rickety team of aged players bereft of hitting prospects, one that may take years to rebuild. Yes, the show will end abruptly; as Chronicle scribe Ray Ratto so aptly put it, "The chase is what invigorates SpectatorWorld, and once achievement occurs, we seek out the next chase."
Within days, if not hours, of No. 756 leaving the park, few will care anymore. Not about this tired old man or this tired old team. The Giants will become the Pittsburgh Pirates, only with a better waterfront. The 350 members of the media currently showing up daily at AT&T -- a record for a regular-season game, according to the media relations department -- will all take the first flight home in the morning, and all those fleeces will disappear from the right field wall. What will remain will be something no one has seen at AT&T in high concentrations for a while now: diehard Giants fans. For them, this is the storm before the calm. They must but weather it.