When Bonds returned to the Bay Area this spring, one of the first things he did was to address the student body at Serra High. Donahue was not surprised by the gesture, not surprised to be remembered. Bonds walked up to him, first thing, and gave him a big hug. "That's Barry," Donahue says.
But another part of being Barry is to invite misunderstanding. This may be genetic. His father certainly invited it during his playing days, and he doesn't seem to have taught his son any of the social skills necessary to avoid misunderstandings. "Important to be popular?" Bobby huffs, his jaw muscles revealing the strain produced by any relations with the press. "All the superstars I've met, popularity wasn't important to them. Barry just wants to play baseball. He's not pushing ballots for popularity."
It's hard to say what Bobby's indifference to popularity or his independent streak has cost him; his peers have granted him the utmost respect as an athlete and as a hitting coach, the position he now holds with the Giants. However, until his close friend Dusty Baker got the San Francisco manager's job in December, Bobby was in baseball limbo, out of work for five years. And no one can say why.
As a kid Barry had much less attitude, and even now he can't manage the surliness of his father. Even so, he could be a handful at times. Donahue once had to cajole Barry into doing weight training, for example. "But it was a game I won," Donahue says. "I would not call him rebellious or argumentative. He was a fairly typical, if highly gifted, high school kid."
Yet he came out of high school with something of a dubious reputation. Before offering Barry a baseball scholarship, Arizona State coach Jim Brock even went so far as to quiz a long-ago baby-sitter of Barry's. Brock was suspicious after Bonds, for all his talent, was left off one of California's most important high school all-star teams. "It was not totally clear to me why," Brock says. According to McKercher it was because tryouts for the northern California team were held the morning after Serra's senior prom. Bonds nodded off during the workout, and a coach—who perhaps was envious on behalf of the less-gifted and less-privileged kids trying out—left him off the team.
Brock was pleasantly surprised by Bonds once he arrived at Arizona State. He remembers a kid with a "twinkle in his eye, never malicious, but a kid who might say silly things at any time." Like every one of Bonds's coaches before him, Brock was somehow drawn into Bonds's world, even though few of his teammates were.
"There are some players who come and go here," Brock says, "and you never get to know them. Who is Bob Horner? He came here, he went. Now, Barry, I got to know him a lot better. It was attention I wanted to give him. I really liked the hell out of him. In fact, you know what the other kids called him? Barry Brock."
But Brock admits there were difficulties and that Bonds got special handling. "There was an inherent jealousy among the other players," he says. "Of course, he did roll in here with that big black Trans Am, he did have more money, he did have a bigger name. And he wasn't real interested in living any of that down." Brock's memory is that the team—"half white, with a redneck factor"—simply froze Bonds out.
"I had to talk to him a lot," Brock says. "He wanted to be liked, tried so damn hard to have people like him. Tried too hard. But then he'd say things he didn't mean, wild statements. I tried to tell him that these guys, 20 years from now, would be electricians and plumbers, but he'd be making millions. I didn't know how many millions, of course. Still, he'd be hurt. People don't realize he can be hurt—and is, fairly often."
Brock has a harder time getting through to Bonds these days; there are layers of agents and secretaries who screen all calls. And Brock says, laughing, that Barry still holds a grudge against him for not recruiting his brothers, Ricky and Bobby Jr. "Those Bonds people are awfully loyal," Brock says. But Bonds did return to Arizona State this spring for an awards ceremony. "Nobody hugs me," Brock says, "but Barry walked right up and hugged me. Kind of embarrassing. But that's Barry."