Come walk in Barry Bonds's shadow. Last season, when it seemed his image couldn't loom any larger after he had signed the richest contract in baseball. Bonds won a third National League MVP award, added a fourth Gold Glove and led the San Francisco Giants to within one victory of the playoffs. Walk in his shadow? Bonds even collects bases on balls in larger-than-life numbers: He was walked intentionally 43 times in 1993, two short of tying a major league record. Imagine what it's like to try to hit, steal a base or throw a runner out from center-field, knowing you're always being measured against the best player in the game.
Bobby Lee Bonds II, who is known as B.B., knows all about walking in Barry's shadow. When B.B. hit a home run for the San Diego Padres' Class A farm team in Waterloo. Iowa, late last season, a guy sitting behind home plate, two-fisting a couple of hot dogs and a beer, yelled, "Hey, Bonds, now you only need 40 more to catch up to your brother!" That's the way life can be if you're a baseball-playing brother who shares a last name like Bonds. Canseco, Griffey, Gwynn, Maddux or Ripken.
"Kids have to find their own direction in life," says Bobby Bonds Sr., who spent 14 years in the majors, was a three-time All-Star and is now the Giants' hitting coach. "B.B. was tired of hearing all the comparisons with his dad and brother. He just wanted to be B.B. He stopped playing baseball before high school, but he never lost interest in the game."
Then Bobby Sr. corrects anyone who carelessly refers to his brood as a "baseball family," as it implies that baseball is the sole bond in the Bonds family. "We're not a baseball family," he says. "We're a family first. We just happen to play baseball. There's a difference. You can't make someone play the game. The only thing that was puzzling to me was that B.B. had so much talent and he wasn't using it."
Barry, almost six years older than B.B., was the prodigy. He always seemed to have a direction in life, to know where the road up ahead would curve. He was a three-sport star in high school, a baseball standout at Arizona State and then the first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985. B.B. turned out to be the prodigal son, his road map not as clearly marked as Barry's. Though he was considered the best natural athlete in the family, he drifted out of sports during high school because he didn't want to practice. Why practice, he reasoned, when you're already better than everybody else? He studied martial arts instead.
After graduating from high school in Redwood City, Calif., in 1988, B.B. went from job to job—bagging groceries, taking drink orders in a bowling alley, replacing roofs, cleaning carpets, busing tables at a fish-and-chips joint.
When Barry heard that his kid brother was lost and in need of a compass, he summoned B.B. to the Pittsburgh Pirates' spring training camp in Bradenton. Fla., in March 1989. It had been two years since the two brothers had seen each other, and they hadn't spent much more than a Christmas meal together since '82, when Barry left for college and B.B. was 12.
Barry promised his brother a weekly salary and a monthlong job that would require him to use a bat, a bucket of balls and his natural skills. The first morning at camp. Barry showed B.B. the batting cage and told him to go to work. Four hours later Barn returned to Unci B.B. still taking cuts.
"Damn, man, you still hitting?" Barry asked.
"I love this game," said B.B., his hands blistered and bleeding. "Why did I give it up?"