By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 6, 2007
It has happened to Austin Kearns before at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Kearns has drifted back from his spot in right field, watched a ball leave the park for a home run, then watched as it bounced back onto the field of play.
"I just pick it up," Kearns said, "and toss it in the crowd."
Now, though, Kearns has a dilemma, one he's not sure how to handle. What if Barry Bonds's 756th homer -- the shot that will break Hank Aaron's all-time record -- bounces from the stands back to Kearns?
"I have no idea," Kearns said.
But he has thought about it, first perhaps a week ago, when Bonds was at 754. Kearns's Washington Nationals open a four-game series against the Giants tonight, and though the left-handed hitting Bonds is perfectly capable of knocking one out to left field -- No. 755 was an opposite-field shot -- odds are that he will pull it, and the ball will go over Kearns's head.
Odds, too, dictate that the ball would either stay in the stands or, if Bonds truly crushes his signature moment, would splash into the water of McCovey Cove, where kayakers await.
But Bonds's 755th homer -- which came Saturday night at San Diego's Petco Park -- hit the upper deck and nearly bounced back into the field before the lower level gobbled it up. So Kearns spent the last couple of days asking around.
"What are my options?" he said. "I could put it in my back pocket."
That brought a split opinion from the court of the Nationals' clubhouse.
"I'd keep it," first baseman Dmitri Young said. "And I'd double-dog dare a fan to come get it from me."
The ball, after all, could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars -- or more.
"You can't keep it," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Then you'd be like [Doug] Mienkiewicz," he said, remembering the former Boston first baseman, who infamously kept the ball he caught for the final out of the 2004 World Series before finally giving it to the Hall of Fame. "You don't want to be that guy. Plus, it's not like the money from that ball would change our lives like it might for someone else."
Still, it will be the ball, a memento unlike any other. But maybe not the back pocket. Kearns thought about the bullpen in San Francisco, which sits along the right field line. Maybe closer Chad Cordero would hold it.
"I could put my trust in 'Chief' and throw it over to him," Kearns said. "I mean, he's right there."
Then, of course, there is the gracious option.
"I could take it into the infield," Kearns said, "and give it to him."
Young said he liked that choice -- if the hitter were Ken Griffey Jr., his former teammate with the Cincinnati Reds. But Bonds is controversial, and as much as players don't like to publicly talk about his alleged performance-enhancing drug use, they have their suspicions privately. Handing the ball to him would hold some symbolism.
"I know what I'd do," catcher Brian Schneider said, sitting two lockers over from Kearns. "I'd put it in my back pocket -- and this would be so hard to do -- but I'd donate it to the Hall of Fame. But it would always have Kearns's name on it. 'Bonds's homer, donated by Austin Kearns.' "
But the logistics involved in that might be tough, too, and questions could arise about whether Kearns originally intended to donate the ball.
So there is, Kearns figures, one final option.
"Or," Kearns said, "I could just turn around and throw it as far as I can, out into the water. I've thought about that, too."