After Blast, Pieces Scatter
Monday, August 6, 2007
SAN DIEGO, Aug. 5 -- On the first morning in baseball history in which two players awoke as the owners of 755 career home runs, this new world began sorting itself like a tangled plotline. As the protagonist moved off-stage for an afternoon, various other central characters moved in and out of the story, the plot remaining static while the dramatic tension built in anticipation of the final act.
Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants left fielder whose homer Saturday night gained him a share of Hank Aaron's cherished all-time record, arrived at Petco Park bleary-eyed but relaxed, and enjoyed a scheduled day off from playing before taking aim at the historic No. 756 on Monday night in San Francisco against the Washington Nationals.
Clay Hensley, the San Diego Padres pitcher who surrendered No. 755, was sent unceremoniously to the minors, but not before securing an autographed bat from the man who had victimized him.
And Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, who has spent 11 of the past 16 days following Bonds -- without crossing paths or making contact with him -- caught part of Sunday's Bonds-less game, then departed for his Milwaukee home. He will be replaced in San Francisco as Major League Baseball's official representatives by Executive Vice President Jimmie Lee Solomon and special assistant Frank Robinson.
Surely, Bonds, Hensley and Selig all spent much of their mornings thinking back to the events of Saturday night, when Hensley threw the fateful pitch, Bonds blasted it over the wall in left-center field and Selig looked on from a luxury suite, hands in his pockets, while the stadium exploded in a hail of photo flashes, cheers and boos.
"I was just happy about the fans here," Bonds, 43, said during a 30-minute interview with a couple dozen media members at his locker late Sunday morning. "I was really happy. I didn't know what to expect."
Bonds's cellphone had filled up with voice mails and text messages over the course of Saturday night and Sunday morning. Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees star who earlier Saturday had become the youngest player to reach 500 career homers, called Bonds, as did one member of the 600-home run club (Willie Mays, Bonds's godfather) and one future member (Ken Griffey Jr. of the Cincinnati Reds).
But the list of people Bonds did not hear from was at least as interesting, if not more so. Selig did not call, even though he made a point of reaching out to Rodriguez on Saturday to congratulate him on his 500th homer. Giants owner Peter Magowan remained in San Francisco and Bonds made no mention of having heard from him. And Aaron himself remained incommunicado, in keeping with his vow to stay away from this entire ordeal.
There has been little said explicitly about steroids in the wake of Bonds's 755th, despite the rampant allegations that have dogged Bonds for much of this decade. Bonds, though, alluded to the widespread criticism of him Sunday when he told the media, "Regardless of what you guys do or say, you're not going to change it."
Ironically, the only central figure from Saturday night who has ever tested positive for steroids was Hensley, who did so as a minor leaguer in 2005. He declined to answer a question about that incident on Sunday, but told reporters Saturday night, "I did something I shouldn't have, and I paid the price."
Late Saturday night, in the tunnel behind their respective clubhouses, Hensley and Bonds paid their respects to each other, an autographed, black maple bat changing hands in one direction, a hug in the other.
"I shook his hand, gave him a big hug and said, 'Congratulations,' " Hensley said before packing his bags and heading off to Class AAA Portland. ". . . He said, 'That ball was way off the plate.' I said, 'Man, I thought you were going to take that pitch.' "
After leaving the stadium Saturday night, Bonds said he celebrated the tying of Aaron's record privately with his family at his hotel, then put his 8-year-old daughter, Aisha, to bed. As of noon Sunday, he still had not seen a replay of the historic homer and had scarcely had the time or the space to ponder it.
"You guys aren't giving me much time to think about it," he said. "You're attacking me here. I have to be alone to feel it. Talking about it doesn't really do much."
Bonds claimed he has heard of John Lannan, the Nationals' rookie left-hander who will be making his third big league start on Monday night -- although Bonds did not say whether he was aware Lannan is the pitcher who broke the hand of Philadelphia Phillies star Chase Utley two weeks ago.
He also said he enjoys the "challenge" of facing young pitchers, such as Lannan, for the first time.
In this new world that has opened up for Bonds in the wake of No. 755 -- a homer that took eight long days to reveal itself -- there is no longer any pressure, only challenges to face.
"Getting there is harder," Bonds said of the ultimate record. "I'm there now."