I don't worry about the relationship that Barry and I have. You worry about being a better player, and Barry made me one.
—JEFF KENT, HOUSTON ASTROS SECOND BASEMAN, ON FORMER TEAMMATE BARRY BONDS
Behind the metal bar that serves as a divide between fans and ballplayers, the buzz of the crowd begins to pick up. Word is spreading that Ray Durham, the San Francisco Giants' new second baseman, has just parked his car in a nearby lot. "Ray's coming!" says one man, grinning widely beneath the brim of an orange Giants cap. "He's coming! He's coming!" It is 7:47 a.m. outside the team's spring training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., and while the air is cold and the sky an angry gray, not one of the 50 or so spectators even thinks of budging. It is an eclectic group—firemen and teachers, lawyers and housewives, 17-year-old boys with braces and seven-year-old girls with Barbies—with a shared passion. Most in the group are using a week's vacation to be here, to crowd around and perhaps exchange a greeting with the players they idolize.
As Durham finally approaches, the fans produce baseball cards and silver Sharpies. Some in the crowd pull out shiny black Giants helmets from duffel bags. "Hey, how y'all doing?" says Durham, flashing a boyish smile. "You guys must loooooove the Giants." One by one he signs every piece of memorabilia thrust his way, engaging in carefree banter that many fans will remember until they die. Upon scribbling his name across the final item, he offers a hearty farewell.
"Just happy to be here!" Durham says. "Happy to be with Barry!"
Forty-five minutes later an even larger collection of diehards waits behind the bar as the ultimate spring training moment arrives. Walking toward the stadium is the Barry Bonds, sunglasses covering his eyes, a look of indifference masking any inner emotions. For the Giants fans who make spring training an annual ritual, trying to get Bonds's signature is as challenging as capturing a saber-toothed tiger. The players are only about six feet from the metal bar when they walk by, but Bonds seems worlds away. A large woman with SAN FRANCISCO printed across her T-shirt calls out. "Barry, can you sign? Barry? Barry? Mr. Bonds? Mr. Bonds?"
Baseball's ultimate superstar turns toward the crowd. He is a lion, and ants are in his food. "You people," he says coldly, "need to get a life."
The ensuing silence is painful.
This too the fans will remember until they die.
If you are wondering what zippity-doo-dah Ray Durham and leave-me-alone Barry Bonds have in common, what two men with personas as far apart as their home states of North Carolina and California, respectively, are doing together on the same club, the answer is simple: rehabilitating. You read that correctly. The National League-champion Giants are the unexpected home to what must be the game's largest rehab center, a place where the baseball hardened and World Series deprived can come and—just maybe—win a championship.
There's Durham, the former Chicago White Sox spark plug, chatting with new centerfielder Marquis Grissom, 35, who was once billed as the next Rickey Henderson but never lived up to that label. Over at third, that's former All-Star Edgardo Alfonzo, who was let go as a free agent by the New York Mets and replaced by... Ty Wigginton? And in rightfield, isn't that Jose Cruz Jr.? Wasn't he supposed to become a superstar—four years ago?