So Bobby Jr. pushes onward, hoping he can discover what that "something" is before it's too late. The odyssey has been agonizing and humbling, with stops in Chandler, Ariz.; Spokane; Waterloo, Iowa; Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; Las Vegas; Springfield, Ill.; and Visalia, Calif., since he signed as the San Diego Padres' 18th pick of the 1992 draft.
For a long time the strikeouts and the disappointments piled up, and Bonds considered quitting. He was released by Kansas City before being picked up last year by the Giants. Now 3Com Park at Candlestick Point, where his brother shines, is only a short drive away. But it might as well be on another planet.
"I looked at this year as the year that would make me or break me," Bonds says. "I was determined to make a difference and pretty much try to shut everybody up by showing them I can play this game." And he was showing it—for a while. He got off to a torrid start in April, hitting .452 in 24 games. It was a drastic improvement over the previous season, in which he batted .248 with 11 home runs.
"He was swinging the bat great, and his confidence level was sky-high," says San Jose manager Frank Cacciatore. "The first week, we had him hitting in the sixth spot, and he worked his way up to number 3 in no time." But then Bonds began feeling twinges in his right elbow. He continued to play, mainly as a designated hitter, until the pain became unbearable. He went on the disabled list May 30, had arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs and returned to the lineup on July 22. His stats through 51 games: .365 with nine doubles, two triples, three homers, 34 runs scored and 33 RBIs.
"God, this game," Bonds says, shaking his head. "It boosts you up and then slaps you down. But I'm right back where I left off. I really wanted to get back in the lineup, and things have just clicked."
Bonds wasn't always so intent on making it in baseball. He once turned his back on the game, and now the game seems to be exacting penance. Growing up in the Bay Area, he was a very, very good player. Maybe too good. In youth leagues he exceeded Barry's feats. His speed and power made jaws drop. But motivation was a problem. He lost interest and quit baseball at age 14.
Bobby Sr., now a special assistant for player personnel in the Giants system, figures his son was turned off by all the early expectations. "It was because he was always compared to me and Barry," says Bobby Sr. "It was always, He can be better than me. He can be better than Barry. I never pushed him into playing, though. He went his own way."
Six years ago Barry, playing with Pittsburgh, invited Bobby Jr. to spring training. "It was like—baseball, oh yeah, I remember this game," Bobby Jr. says.
"You can lay anything you want in front of somebody, but if they don't take it, it doesn't matter," Barry says. "I don't take any credit for bringing him back. He's doing it himself. I can't swing the bat for him. Maybe it helped to motivate him a little, once he got to see the reality of it. But the bottom line is, you've got to love the game. It turned out that he realized he did—finally, after all those years of not embracing it."
Bobby Jr. returned to California, where he enrolled at Canada College in Redwood City. He joined the baseball team, and jaws dropped once again.