As far as anyone can remember, nobody who has really wanted to interview Bonds has failed to get his man. But negotiations for his time are not for the fainthearted or deadline-driven. A writer might spend the first three days just trying to establish the possibility of an interview. Bonds might fail to look up or register any recognition during conversations with the would-be interviewer, might pick at imaginary scabs on his arm and repeal "Whatever, dude" over and over. The next phase might be a series of decreasingly vague promises by Bonds as he warms to the idea of the interview. This part of the process also includes actual recognition of the interviewer.
The third, most tantalizing phase includes specific appointments, at first broken and later delayed. For Bonds it's a kind of social aerobics. Day Seven: "Aw, dude! I forgot about stretching!" he says, slapping dude on shoulder as he breaks yet another appointment and heads out to the field. Teammate Willie McGee, who is passing by, is not so much amazed by the excuse—Bonds, alone among his teammates, does not stretch—as by the sheer determination of the interviewer. "Man," he says under his breath, admiringly, "dude's been here a week."
But later on Day Seven and on Day Eight, Bonds finally sits down, as he promised so long ago.
"He has made his point," a club official explains. And that point would be...? The club official shrugs.
"Why talk about things?" Bonds says, explaining his aversion to interviews. "When you talk about stuff too much, you overkill it. You get your glory when the people are happy. That's the glory of it all—when your team wins, you got that big hit, made that big play. That says enough. Why talk about it?"
He is mystified by the amount of attention he gets and mildly depressed by its nature. "You can look and look into the life of Barry Bonds," he says, "and the worst thing you'll find is about four traffic tickets, and all of them before I came to the majors."
Certainly he is mystified by the demands I hat fans make on him. He believes that he discharges all of his obligations to the public on the field. He prepares well (whatever you do, don't ever try to talk to him before a game), and he plays hard. He does not let the game down, ever. The elder Bonds, whose own career was damned by the word potential, says Barry is never satisfied at the end of the season: "He tells me, 'I've got to throw, got to get better.' "
As if all that weren't enough, Bonds performs with a flamboyance that hovers between annoying and spectacular, but is good value however you see it. "Why can't people just enjoy the show?" he wonders. "And then let the entertainer go home and get his rest, so he can put on another show? But in baseball, you get to see us, touch us, trade our cards, buy and sell jerseys. To me, that dilutes the excitement. Autograph seekers! When I go to a movie, after the final credits roll, I get up and leave. It's the end! But [at a ball game] I'm supposed to stand out there for three hours and then sign autographs?
"If fans pay $10 to see Batman, they don't expect to get Jack Nicholson's autograph."
In fact, Bonds does sign autographs from time to time. But otherwise he doesn't feel he needs to share his life off the field—with anybody. That house of his? The major cribbage, where he lives with his wife, Sun, and their two children, Nikolai, 3, and Shikari, 2? You ask the style. "Mediterranean," he says. You ask the setting. "Oh, no you don't. I don't want you finding my house." It's hard work being this private.