The 27-year-old Class A outfielder has grown accustomed to the taunts. On countless summer nights he has stepped to the plate in one of 10 cozy California League ballparks and had his eardrums verbally punctured.
At first the derisive one-liners were fresh. They made the outfielder chuckle a bit. Then they made him angry. Now they're stale and fairly easy to tune out, like elevator music:
"For crissakes, you didn't learn that from your brother, did you?"
"You better get your daddy down here to help you!"
"Hey, Bobby—where are you going to play next year?"
That's the kind of noise you put up with when you've got BONDS stitched to the back of your uniform. "It used to absolutely kill me," says Bobby Bonds Jr., in his second season with the San Jose Giants. "Now I'm older, and I can handle it a little easier. But when you're 22, you're pissed. You're trying too hard. You want to shut them up. You want to go into the stands and kick their asses. You let them get into your head."
Funny, though, how you miss them when they're gone. On this sultry evening in San Jose, the son of Bobby Bonds and younger brother of Barry Bonds would give anything to hear those taunts again. Instead, the silence is unbearable. He's stuck in the dugout, nursing an injured elbow, while his teammates play the Stockton ( Calif.) Ports. The injury has robbed him of precious playing time, and if there's anything Bonds doesn't have a lot of, it's time.
"I'm virtually a senior citizen on this level, and I know how teams think," he says. "It all has to click pretty soon, or it's over. When you own a franchise, and you've got 17-year-olds just out of high school who could be there [the majors] when they're 21, you don't want to be messing around with an old fogy like me."
That's the frustrating reality Bonds confronts as he makes the lonely bus rides through the California League. He is the son of an ultratalented former big leaguer and the brother of one of the finest players in the game today. But it took him some time to figure out that superior bloodlines and natural talent mean nothing if they are not blended with intense devotion and a feel for the game.
"I could be like Barry and probably do as much as he could—maybe more—but there's just something missing," he says. "Barry and my dad talk about it all the time, but you can talk till you're blue in the face. It ain't going to make you hit a baseball. I think it's something inside you that you've got to find on your own."