"He still has more physical ability than any free agent I've ever seen," says Larry Harper, a Seattle Mariners scout who signed Bobby Jr. when Harper was with San Diego. "He's big [6'4" and 180 pounds], he's faster and stronger than his brother, and he has a better arm. But you've got to have the instincts to go along with it. Barry has amazing instincts, but Bobby Jr. never fully developed his."
While his brother draws paychecks on one of the richest contracts in sports, Bobby Jr. scrapes by on his Class A salary. He stays at his parents' home in San Carlos to save on rent and sends money to his wife, Tracie, a real estate agent in Arizona. The couple has two young boys—Braxton, 2, and Bobby III, nine months—and Tracie has a nine-year-old daughter, Katelin, from a previous marriage.
Though Bonds says he gets along with his teammates, he admits to feeling stung by the cynicism of some people who believe the only reason he still has a job in pro ball is his name. "It could be the reason, or it could not," he says. "I have no idea. Either way, I'm here. I don't want a free ride, and anyone who thinks I'm getting one can kiss my ass."
Jack Hiatt, director of player development for the Giants, insists that—if anything—Bobby Jr.'s name has been a hindrance. "It's not his name that has kept him in the game," Hiatt says. "To the contrary, maybe if he didn't have that name, he'd be in the big leagues. Think about it. He battles the legends of his father and brother every day, and he's doing it right on their doorstep. There are the expectations. The constant catcalls. He's done a great job of handling it, and I'm proud of him."
Bobby Jr. spent the off-season working out with Barry. He says it gave him a valuable insight into what it takes to be a major league star. "He is so disciplined," Bobby Jr. says. "I would have never thought that my brother worked out as hard as he does. You figure, 'Hey, it's the off-season. I've got money. Let's just hang out.' But there he is getting up at 5 a.m. to run. There he is lifting, hitting every day with that fire in his eyes. Watching him is an inspiration. I want to copy those habits and see if they will pay off for me."
But is it too late? Bobby Jr. says his dream is to play in the majors with his brother. He once made a brief stop at Triple A ( Las Vegas) but has ascended no higher. And he remains a long shot in an organization crammed with outfield prospects. Still, expansion is coming, and slots will open up.
"A lot of guys would love to be doing what I do instead of working at McDonald's or 7-Eleven," he says. "I like playing. I like coming out here with the guys and talking mess. It's kind of like being a little kid all over again." Instead of an old fogy running out of time.