Barry Bonds gets ovation, video tribute in return to AT&T Park

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Saturday, April 23, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds did not expect a hero's welcome upon his return to AT&T Park in a baseball uniform for the first time since his last game with the San Francisco Giants in 2007. He hoped for something warmer.

"I don't really have fans in San Francisco; this is my family," Bonds, in his first season as the Miami Marlins' hitting coach, said in the visitors dugout before Friday's 8-1 loss to the Giants. "This is where I was raised, this is where I grew up, people that stood behind me through thick and thin. And so I always will appreciate that and always have my love for San Francisco."

As reviled as Bonds was as a player in the rest of the baseball universe, he was just as revered in the Bay Area, where his father, Bobby, also starred as a five-tool big leaguer. Bonds also is the godson of Giants legend Willie Mays.

Most fans in the other 29 stadiums might consider his all-time record of 762 homers tainted because of allegations of performance-enhancing drug use, but not so on the shores of McCovey Cove.

On Friday, Bonds was welcomed back like the prodigal son returning home when he came out to deliver his new team's lineup card to the umpires.

He was given a warm embrace by longtime Giants bench coach Ron Wotus as the crowd realized what was going on at home plate. Thunderous applause broke out and chants of "Bar-ry, Bar-ry, Bar-ry" filled the air as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bonds acknowledged the cheers and, like he did many times in his 15 seasons with the Giants, took two steps out of the batter's box -- yes, his old home on the left side. He doffed his cap with his right hand and pounded his chest with his left fist, circling around to make sure every seat in the waterfront ballpark saw his gesture.

In the middle of the third inning, the Giants played a video tribute to Bonds, and he came out of the Marlins dugout for a lengthy curtain call and blew kisses to the crowd.

"It's good to see him in baseball, it really is," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who had Bonds for one year before winning three World Series in 2010, '12 and '14.

"He's doing what he wants to do."

Bochy said Bonds spoke earlier in the day at a memorial for Jim Davenport, the late Giants player, coach and manager, and said Bonds wanted to be like Davenport and serve as a mentor for young players.

"He's got a passion for it," Bochy said of Bonds. "Good for him. I'm sure he'll do a great job over there."

Awkward? Not really. At least, not as uncomfortable as it could have been had Bonds taken the Giants' offer to be formally recognized with a plaque on the team's Wall of Fame.

"I felt it really wasn't the right time," Bonds said. "It would be kind of weird. My boss is Jeffrey [Loria] now, and I want to respect him. I want to respect the Marlins, and we're here to play the Giants and put on a good performance. I think it's just more respectful to the Miami fans, and if the Giants want to do something at a later date with me in the right uniform, then I think that's more appropriate.

"I'm very serious about being a good hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. I respect the Giants, and I'll root for them when I leave, but I'm not going to root for them right now. I don't want them to beat us while I'm here, no. I take my job very serious."

Bonds is still getting used to the daily rigors of life as a coach, and he said he uses lessons taught to him by his late father and Mays as examples for his new charges.

"I think it's probably an adjustment for Barry," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "You've got to take their swing and work it in, and I think he's done a good job of that.

"Barry's a big personality and a guy that's good for our young guys, I think. He says something, these guys listen. So from a credibility standpoint, he walks in, instant credibility, and these guys know who he is."

You have to wonder, then, whether Bonds has already grown frustrated with players who cannot emulate what he did in a career that included seven National League MVP awards, 12 Silver Sluggers, a 73-homer season in 2001, a .298 career batting average and a .607 career slugging percentage, not to mention the most home runs in big league history.

Think Ted Williams, who notoriously grew frustrated with players as a manager and hitting instructor after his legendary career ended.

"You can't expect [players to be like me]," Bonds said. "We're all different people. Everyone has their own ability. You just try to improve their ability. I can't expect them to see the things I see. Some may, some may not.

"But the best thing is to take whatever they have and just try to improve that as best as you can."

Bonds said he has had to learn to better channel his emotions as a coach. Asked whether Bonds has become angry with any of his hitters yet, Marlins leadoff man Dee Gordon laughed.

"He's going to be mad at me forever, then," Gordon said, "because I can't do what he did."

Instead, Gordon said, Bonds has worked specifically on Gordon's approach in each at-bat.

As for whether Bonds can see himself being a hitting coach in the long term, he said, "I'm just going to go one day at a time and one year at a time. But I do like it. I do like it a lot. It's a lot of fun. Miami's been great, the people have been great, fans been great, media's been great.

"I haven't had this much good press in my life, and I'm liking it. I'm like, [shoot], I should have done this a long time ago."

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