Patrick Hayashi, picking up his brother Lane at the San Jose airport, had spoken excitedly about their chances as they drove to the ballpark. Patrick likened the SRO tickets they'd purchased on eBay to lottery tickets. Lane said no, their odds were much better than the lottery's—why, if Bonds pulled one to right, as was his habit, and didn't get quite enough of it to blast it into San Francisco Bay, Lane and Patrick would be two of perhaps 1,500 people in the sweepstakes.
A few minutes before Bonds's first-inning at bat, both pairs of brothers split up. So they could cover more ground—that's what they told themselves. So brother wouldn't be clawing brother over a ball whose value, memorabilia marketing agent Michael Barnes estimated, was between $1 million and $2 million—that's what they didn't say.
By pure chance Michael Popov and Lane Hayashi ended up a few feet from each other, in dead right, while Patrick Hayashi and Alex Popov ended up likewise, just behind the 365-foot sign nearer to right center, where Alex's online research had told him the biggest number of Bonds's bombs had gone.
Bonds approached the plate. Two outs, nobody on. The brothers sized up their neighbors. Their enemies. Alex Popov, six feet and 200 pounds, decided he was taller than anyone within arm's reach, but just in case, he planted one foot on a box containing television cable so he could make himself even taller. He took no notice of the KNTV reporter beside him with a microphone stuffed inside his jacket, angling for the big story, nor of the reporter's cameraman a dozen feet away. Kathryn Sorenson, a Xerox repairwoman in a wool cap, surveyed the eager mass of males in their 30s and 40s and noticed the 5'5" Patrick Hayashi. How's that little short guy gonna get the ball? she thought. He doesn't have a chance in hell. He's gonna get stomped.
Three balls, two strikes to Bonds. Had the slugger mulled the ethical question staring him in the eye? He'd already smashed the alltime home run record held by Mark McGwire, hitting Nos. 71 and 72 two days earlier. The 72 ball ricocheted back onto the field and was presented to Bonds, which meant that all he had to do now, in a game that was meaningless in the standings, was to hit anything except a home run, and the 72 ball he possessed would be the million-dollar ball. What should he do?
Dodgers pitcher Dennis Springer coiled. The Hayashis and Popovs tensed. Springer slung a 3-and-2 knuckler. Bonds dropped his hands and lifted, a launching-pad lick, perhaps the most unselfish act of his life. The ball shot up, up and farther up—could a ball hit that high travel far enough? Up over a city where the gold rushers had thronged a century and a half earlier in quest of instant wealth. Up over a town where the rush had just happened all over again, a dotcom boom in which websites and high-tech firms had sprouted and monetized, in the locals' lingo, overnight. Where everyone had babbled of click-through rates and vested stock options and rents tripling and condos that couldn't be built quickly enough to accommodate the wave of worldwidewebbers washing in. Up over the stadium at the epicenter of it all, the cyberbarons' playground where Yahoo.com, Schwab.com, Webvan, CNET, TicketWeb, TiVo, Blue Mountain and Wired magazine had hung their 10,000-watt shingles from the facades, and where every spiderwebbed warehouse within a 10-block radius had been converted into a dotcommer's office or his two-bedroom pad.
Up, up over a mob that had just seen the four-year bubble burst, the dot detonate, instant riches vaporizing and the lights blinking out on those ballpark billboards one by one as the city of San Francisco discovered, to its shock, that the world didn't need a dozen online pet-supply companies.
High above Hayashi, one of 40,000 people laid off by Nortel Networks just a few months before, and Popov, whose online venture, Man.com, had gone up in smoke. High against a gray sky, one last dot worth a million bucks.
OH...MY...GOD. Slowly it dawned on Popov. That ball wasn't just high. That ball was deep. That ball was...monetized. And coming straight toward him.