SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., Feb. 20 -- Your first day of spring training is no time for apologies, admissions of guilt or acknowledgments of worry. It is a day for hugging your teammates, mugging for the cameras, half-stepping through a workout, taking your cuts in the batting cage and talking about winning a championship. Failed drug tests? Clubhouse rifts? Federal investigations? There is a term for all that stuff: "Media conversation." If you don't acknowledge it as anything more than that, maybe it will all go away.
That was the subtext of Barry Bonds's annual State of the Barry address -- on the occasion of the start of his 22nd big league season, and the launching of his pursuit of Hank Aaron's all-time home run record -- which took place Tuesday at Scottsdale Stadium on the day the San Francisco Giants held their first full-squad workout. The substantive portion of the news conference lasted little more than a minute, and went like this:
Does the federal investigation of you for possible perjury charges weigh on you?
"It doesn't weigh on me at all -- because it's just you guys talking. It's the media conversation. Let them investigate. Let 'em. They've been doing it this long."
Would you address the report that you tested positive for amphetamines last season and blamed teammate Mark Sweeney?
"I did not blame Mark Sweeney, and I have no comments on it at all."
Then why did you feel the need to apologize to Sweeney this winter?
"Because you guys were talking about it, and I just thought it was unfair for him to be accused of something that wasn't true."
Do you feel the need to apologize to your teammates as a group for betraying the clubhouse code of silence?
"No, I don't have to say anything to anybody."
How do you feel about the source of the BALCO leak admitting guilt last week?
"I have no comment on that at all."
How do you feel about your former trainer Greg Anderson remaining in jail for refusing to testify to the grand jury?
"I have no comment on that either. . . . Thank you very much. You guys keep on [asking] the same thing. You want to talk baseball, let's do that. Thank you, guys. Have a nice day."
Bonds, 42, seemed genuinely disappointed and hurt at the direction of the questioning, and a frown covered his face as he was ushered away by a Giants public-relations staffer. After finally signing a contract last week that will pay him a guaranteed $15.8 million this year -- but that expressly gives the Giants the right to terminate the deal if he is indicted for perjury for testifying to a grand jury that he did not knowingly use steroids -- perhaps he expected softball questions about his improved health, and how this season, which begins with him needing only 22 homers to break Aaron's record of 755, will be his crowning achievement.
"I'll drag it out," he joked about the expected record chase. "I'll make you guys wait."
He had arrived at the stadium shortly before 8:30 a.m. -- flanked by a smaller-than-usual entourage, as mandated by the Giants, that included two publicists and a security guard -- and from the moment he stepped into the home clubhouse until the very moment, some 4 1/2 hours later, when the media's questioning turned to off-the-field issues, Bonds seemed in a splendid mood that matched the sunny morning.
He hugged teammates left and right, reserving a jovial headlock for new pitcher and next-door lockermate Barry Zito. He skipped the team stretching and joined an agility drill late, holding a bottle of water the entire time. He also missed a team huddle on the infield, but he made sure to be there in time for his turn in the batting cage, waiting out the minutes until his next turn by sitting on a folding chair he had brought along.
"He's a good guy, man," Zito said later. "He's doing the best he can. . . . He deals with stuff in a special way. I'm sure the masses don't understand how he's able to compartmentalize things."
Bonds, conveniently, was not in the same hitting group as Sweeney -- who has already publicly absolved Bonds of guilt for the New York Daily News report that said Sweeney had been the source of the amphetamines that triggered the positive test -- but he did stand in against Zito, who signed a seven-year, $126 million deal this winter to head the Giants' rotation, and 22-year-old flamethrower Matt Cain.
Near the end of his session against Cain, after swinging and missing a fastball, Bonds said to the young pitcher, "Throw it again."
When Cain reared back and fired another fastball, Bonds crushed it over the wall in right-center field. He turned his back and strutted toward the dugout.
"Okay, I'm ready," he announced. "I'm ready."
Later, Bonds joked that he now only needed 21 homers to break the record. "That counted," he said of the homer off Cain. "I'm taking all I can."
At one point during batting practice, Bonds tucked into the Giants' clubhouse for a few moments, then reemerged alongside Zito. Bonds gestured to the reporters and photographers near the dugout, and said, "Y'all don't want to miss this." As Bonds and Zito walked side by side toward the batting cage, their backs revealed matching orange-on-black T-shirts reading, "DON'T ASK ME . . . ASK BARRY!" with an arrow pointing in the direction of the other Barry.
Everyone laughed at the joke, but it underscored the fact that one of Zito's jobs this year will be to take some of the media heat off Bonds. Affable, flaky and witty, Zito already has created stirs in the early days of Giants camp by sitting in Bonds's special chair, and by going to the mound with a radically altered delivery, which he promptly ditched when the Giants protested.
"I'm just happy to be able to help out Barry in any way I can to lighten the load on him," Zito said.
An upside-down trash can topped by a clubhouse-issued white towel served as the podium for Bonds's news conference. He joked about his age, joked that he will play until he is 100 and joked -- no, wait, this was serious -- that he was most concerned right now with "jelling together" with his teammates and new manager Bruce Bochy.
Things were wonderful on the surface, and the surface should have been good enough for everyone. But it wasn't. The questions turned pointed, the good vibe was ruined and the Year of Barry, with all its promise of glory and disgrace, had officially begun.