4978 words (19 minute read)

5                          Barry Bonds Goes Deep

“Hate hurts the hater more than the hated.” Fanny Hill tried mightily to will herself to Madeleine L’Engle’s advice. It wasn’t really hate. She knew within that it was unadulterated envy. Ah heck, it was both. Fanny Hill was schlepping beer weeknights at the ballpark to augment the non-union pittance she was paid to anchor weekend news on KKSF-TV, TV-20.

Oh, how she wished a competing station would recruit her. Would she jump from TV 20? Heck yeah. Remember what Harry Reasoner told a reporter when asked why he jumped to ABC after twenty-some years at CBS? Something like, "because Walter Cronkite was showing no inclination to step in front of a speeding bus."

"Victory Freedom." What kind of name is that? Fanny knew it was a winning name and a name she would love to forget. Victory Freedom was the weeknight prime-time anchor for TV-20. Why doesn’t ABC recruit her?

Fanny Hill had been raised Penelope Reseda in the San Fernando Valley. Her dad was lead sportswriter for Northridge News and it was from him she had caught the journalism bug. She had come north to enroll at San Jose State, a formidable journalism university. There, part of her on-air name came to her when she had roomed with two biology majors in Morgan Hill, a San Jose suburb that’s actually closer to Gilroy than to the downtown campus. Gilroy, California, self proclaimed Garlic Capital of the World. Funny, she thought, I went from feeling too close to Gilroy to winding up—for now—beside Gilroy. Specifically, beside the ball park’s odorous signature Gilroy Garlic Fries booth on the mezzanine adjacent to where Smoky Burgess was poised to refill her cupcake pan. Fanny Hill in a haze of garlic, waiting on a Cronkite bus.

"Time for a change. Time for leadership you can go to the bank with. This inning sponsored by Republicans Dedicated to Dump Diane Feinstein."

“No, I am not bitter, I am not hateful, and I am not unforgiving. I just don’t like you.” She had forgotten who had said that. Kuni Noyori had not liked the man from the very first day the new owners had brough him to Hawaii from across the seas. Worse, he spoke Japanese like he had learned the language from a Paiute elder.

Kuni had modeled in the stratosphere of Hawaii fashion airspace when she caught the eye of the haole, high muckety-muck. This high muckety-muck haole, or malohini, or whatever Hawaiian word for interloper one chooses to use, had once called himself Cool Cole Kelly. (with such a name, one just knew that Cole Kelly had launched his career in radio)

Cole had been raised far, far away from the Land of the Rising Sun. In fact, back in the day, he and his friends used to brag how they often rode bicycles to watch the Giants play in in Candlestick Park.

Nowadays, many microphones, studios and frequent flier points later, he was known in the trades as someone who could "flip" a format to build a new, faithful audience. Cole had become the TV program director responsible for Kuni’s rocket-fueled ascent in the television biz. Her evening news show for TV Ten Zero, licensed to Pearl Harbor, had commanded an 85 percent share of Hawaii’s Japanese-speaking audience.

But when another owner came along with even stronger numbers, strong enough numbers to buy TV Ten Zero, Cole and Kuni found themselves "out on the street." Cole had suddenly, unceremoniously been given the boot… there’s something new for the broadcast business. Kuni Noyori was out too, but for a different reason entirely. Her evening news show may have commanded an 85 percent share, but Cole Kelly had commanded her heart. Suddenly, Cole was gone. And she knew she would be right behind him, out the doors of TV Ten Zero.

Her unceremonious exit came sooner than later. Her new general manager had flown in from Nagoya where the three stations he had run had set viewing records in Japan’s third largest media market. Shisha Hiratsu was old school. Old, old school. Female employees were considered ornamental and serviceable, especially those who aspired to star on-air. Poof! Kuni was out of TV Ten Zero in a Nagasaki second.

"Up next for the Giants."

Pac Bell Stadium turnstiles cha-chinged for the first time one April weekend in 2000 (don’t you know, the damnable Dodgers won all three games of the inaugural series). Since then, the stiff lads high atop section 100 had witnessed their fair share of prestigious events, including the 2007 Major League All-Star Game, and the World Series in 2002 and 2010. It had even been home for a $300 a head slumber party on the field following one Dodger game. Hey! All the Krispy Kreme doughnuts you can eat! No kidding. The high point for The Pistol was 2001 when Pac Bell was home to the San Francisco Demons of the XFL.

A whimsical idea that the stadium designers had borrowed, was just how high to build the fences. The architects-- and promotions people-- had taken their cue from the Pittsburgh Pirates who played in PNC Park, named for a bank. Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid, wore number 24, so the right field fence at AT&T is twenty-four feet high, to honor the Giants’ legendary centerfielder. The right field wall in Pittsburgh rises to a height of precisely twenty-one feet, 21, the number worn on the back of baseball great and even greater humanitarian, Pirate right fielder Roberto Clemente.

On Dec. 31, 1972, perennial all-star Clemente boarded a small plane en route from his native Puerto Rico to Nicaragua to spearhead earthquake relief for the shaken country. The heavily loaded plane crashed off the Puerto Rico coast and Clemente’s body was never recovered. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, in a special election that waived the mandatory five-year waiting period after a player’s retirement, before he could be considered for induction to Cooperstown.

“Baseball survives,” Jimmy Cannon of the New York Journal-American had written, “because guys like Clemente still play it."

Author Roger Angel said, “He played a kind of baseball that none of us had ever seen before… as if it were a form of punishment for everyone else on the field.”

A couple weeks after Pac Bell had been baptized, Barry Bonds splashed the waters. That is, he walloped a homer so far over the Throwback Seat section, that it landed in the San Francisco bay. Specifically, the ball landed in a cove named for Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. Thus, the tradition of the “splash hit" home run was born. Barry Bonds had hit 84 of his 998 life-time homers, into McCovey Cove.

Phil and his fellows were cantilevered over the cove beyond the walkway that horseshoes it. Pedestrians outside the stadium along the walkway can actually view the action on the field through one of eight stately brick arches. Beyond, swarms of souvenir-seeking kayakers and boaters ply the chilly waters expectantly, whenever Bonds sashays to home plate.

When kayakers and boaters are not scratching and clawing one another to haul in one of Barry’s splash hit souvenirs, they often can be found tied alongside one another hoisting glasses, sharing Chablis and canapés, and all but ignoring the other 17 hitters in the line-ups. Seventeen, presuming pitchers can also be called hitters.

This night, the cove action was a cauldron of foam. In fact, a Coast Guard fleet under command of Rear Admiral Mario Alioto and sporting perhaps more ships than all that France had ever set upon the seas, (coalition of the unwilling or otherwise) was on high alert.

(Few fans knew that strong-arm Mario was the mysterious lucky fan who had wound up with elusive home run ball number 900, which months later, had been tracked to a pawn shop up in Vacaville)

Down south, far from Vacaville and even farther from the land of the rising sun, Cole Kelly had grown up in Pacifica, the land of the descending fog. The saddest afternoons, his father recollected only half-jokingly, were those when Dad skipped out of his corner office in the landmark Hobart Building above Market early on those rare, golden, sun-kissed 80-degree sparkling summer afternoons in the City, only to find himself at home on the shore a mere twenty minutes south of San Francisco, pulling on his down jacket and switching on the electric fire to abide the 58-degree white-out of fog. Chilly down there all right.

Long acclimated to that type of cold, Cool Cole now had two hot coals in the fire. At this very moment, he was checking out market leader KSEA-TV in Seattle, and had already shared three warm enough sit-downs with the new owner of two East Bay TV stations that had been, well, consolidated. The new head honcho owned a winning station in San Diego that had cash-cowed his new venture. Immediately, he had fashioned modern offices and studios out over the bay, south of Berkeley, in Jack London Square. Cole found the guy to be easy going, rare in the TV biz. Moreover, the mogul had checked out in spades when Cole had touched base with an industry buddy, basketball star Bill Walton’s twin brother. KGBS TV sales manager Bruce Walton was as big a Big Dog as any television exec in Southern California.

Cole had boyhood friends in the Bay Area, pals from San Francisco State, a few industry mates, and exactly one dogged groupie from his first deejay gig, weekends on KDAY in Hayward. One. Yep. If you’re not a talented enough deejay, you inevitably will be bumped up to media management.

So, Cole would be cool with the fog in Seattle, but how many broadcasters get the chance to return home, Mister Wolfe, to ply his trade in his home town?

Kuni seconded that emotion. In Hawaii, goose bumps are called, "chicken skin," and her skin did a Seattle shake whenever she imagined how an island girl might fare in the Sound’s often stubbornly foggy and drizzly climate. San Francisco might be just as cold but it didn’t feel that damp. Either way, Cole Kelly was now her man and she was an old fashion girl. It was going on two years now. For almost two years she had felt for him in a way she had long thought only popped up in Jane Austen novels. Anyone who knew Cole would testify in a Hayward second, that her feelings were lavished on the right fellow. And now there was a new and compelling factor. A secret that only the two of them shared. Well, maybe a certain extended-family cousin was also in the know.

Cole had spent the week in Seattle getting a feel for the KSEA producers and on-air team. The station manager had promised that corporate would prepare an offer sheet for him by week’s end. The owner of the Jack London duo was to conduct a final interview that morning... with a "minority." No matter where the pair wound up, Kuni’s agent had assured her that Nieman would jump at a chance to reinsert her into their ad mix. But by now, she may have outgrown that, literally, she didn’t know. What she did know was that for now, she was ensconced in the guest room of cousin Ming’s home in trendy Tiburon, bunking with her and her hubby ... heck, probably the hottest salesman on the whole friggin’ west coast... one Bobby G. (Tiburon. Spanish for "shark")

"The Giants remind you, game time tomorrow night is 7:05, when Matt Cain squares off against Roger Clemens."

"Did you see where Mr. Clemens says he’ll probably chose to go into the Hall in Yankee pin stripes?" Izzy roused his noggin’ from a half sleep.

If a Hall of Fame inductee had played for more than one team, he might be allowed to represent the team of his choice, provided that team agreed. Clemens had pitched for the Yankees for oh, a half dozen New York seconds?

"Roger Clemens going into the Hall of Fame as a New York Yankee, is like George Harrison going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Travelling Wilbury."

"Whoooooaaaaah," exclaimed Johnny Pistol. "Sammy Boy spews forth a rock and roll proclamation!"

"I stole it from Mike Bianchi, baseball man supreme-o, for The Orland-o Sentinel-o."

"Hall of Fame? Hall of Shame," said Izzy.

Phil grinned. "Here we go."

"Next year," wheezed Izzy, "my money says no one gets elected to Cooperstown. ’Roids."

"’Roids? I’m too young for ’em."

The gang ignored The Pistol. The boys were stepping out onto worn ground. Sammy, far from the first time, recited: "McGwire, Sosa, Piazza and Palmiero, correct-o?"

"Yep. Deny for so many years now, the man who broke Roger Maris’ home run record. The player who had more 60-homer seasons than anyone. Some say the greatest hitting catcher ever, and one of only four hitters ever, to crunch 3,000 hits and 500 homers." Izzy was frothing.

"Yep," concurred Sammy, yet again. "By the Hall of Fame’s very own criteria, each of them is a lock. ’Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.’"

"Double down," slyly encouraged Phil. "Place your bets on Pete Rose too."

"Rose-schmoze," countered Sammy. "I’m okay with gambling. Why there would be no such thing as big-time college or major league sports, if fans weren’t allowed to gamble. But I can’t abide a player or manager who bets against his own team."

Phil saw his opening: "Pete Rose’s second autobiography, My Prison Without Bars, is coming out. Think it will become a Bookie of the Month Club Selection?"

"Bottom of the inning, Mr. Bonds will bat second." The Kid, especially with his array of unplugged electronics, was weighing on Phil. Just the same, he mused merrily that he had become caught up in Vin’s narrative.

Deejay or no deejay, Bumper felt he really had nothing to say, but hey, be polite. After all, she’s Ming’s cousin. Throw in some small talk. “Well, Kun.” Prim Kuni Noyori all blanched at Bumper’s familial greeting. “Welcome to the States. Whaddaya think of your first taste of the good ‘ol American pastime?”

Kuni could have reminded Bumper that Hawaii was part of the United States, too! Furthermore, University of Hawaii baseball was revered in the Islands. It may as well have been a pro sports team. She might also have revealed that before assuming the anchor chair at Ten Zero, Cole had assigned her to do Rainbow cutaways from Les Murikami Stadium to get used to live air, familiarize viewers to a new face, and otherwise tighten her chops for TV, while she waited out the last two months of the retiring anchor’s contract. Instead, she said, “It’s some kind of treat, Bumper." Then Kuni hid a grin and whispered loudly behind her raised hand, "arigato hoz ee mas.”

Bumper Morgan was unsure what to say.

Phil urged, “tell her she’s very, very welcome.

"Thank you," said Kuni, this time in English, as she smiled at Fanny Hill, who had talked her into a taste of San Francisco’s own Anchor Steam beer. Fanny removed the cup from its cupcake holster, and Kuni took it with two hands. She said she envied Fanny’s gleaming, streaked hair pulled through her cap. Fanny countered with her own polite compliment before stepping down to where young Vin Hodges had been poring over statistics during his station break.

"How goes it tonight, sport?" No rookie he, Vin Hodges immediately and devoutly prayed for a pitching change so this encounter with that babe with the two hot tails, eh-eh, might be extended a couple minutes.

Beside the protégé, Dad stared straight ahead, mesmerized. Penny Platinum had draped her jacket so that it brushed his knees. Oft viewed pearls seemed to dance feverishly out of her meshed tube top that was no wider than a Fat Boy bicycle tube. Eeeeeyikes! Suddenly, when Merrill Hodges glanced to his right, he found himself eyeball to eyeball with Hulk Butler’s eyes that were eyeing his own eyes, because Hulk had eyed what Mr. Hodges’ eyes had been eyeing.

"Oh, pretty good, Miss Fanny." The Kid was a chip off the old block. While sneaking peeks at Fanny the inning previous, his eyes hadn’t had to wander even an inch from where his baby blues had locked in, in order to pick up on Fanny’s name tag.

She smiled. "You’ve got Bonds up this inning. What’s your prediction?"

If there was one thing young Vin was unaccustomed to, it would be stammering. "Well, uh, uh," he stammered, "he’s due. He’s due to park one out of the hit."

Fanny grinned at that one. "I can feel it too." Fanny’s perkiness wasn’t pretend. Gears had been working beneath that auburn streak through crimson tide, ever since that first moment she heard Vinny purr into his wooden microphone. "Hey, Sport. Ever been up top in a real broadcast booth?"

"Like, sure." Vin Hodges would kill to be up close to a real broadcast booth. To be inside one; to maybe even chat up a professional play-by-play guy? That was afoul of his field of dreams.

She rubbed his arm and beamed a Crest model’s smile. "You never know," said Fanny. The Kid didn’t detect motors grinding behind the emerald eyes of the hottest babe he had ever set eyes upon. In fact, the count on Sandoval had gone to two balls and a strike, before Vin realized that play had resumed. The Giants’ number two hitter was working Messersmith while Barry Bonds dug his spikes into the clay of the on-deck circle, rubbed down with rosin the barrel of his bat (it was not a Hillerich & Bradsby 34-inch Maury Wills model two-tone bat), while all the while appearing mostly bored with the goings on. He was anything but.

Barry Lamar Bonds was the son of former Giants star outfielder Bobby Bonds. Both his cousin and his godfather, Reggie Jackson and Willie Mays, had been inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. With the steroid laboratory cloud of accusations haloed around his chemically swollen head, whether or not Barry was to enter The Hall was a white hot topic for argument in many a sports bar... including his.

"Bonds on deck, son." For about the nineteenth time, Merrill Hodges dropped this nugget on the progeny: "When he comes to bat, tell ’em what Bonds and football stars Lynn Swann and Hugh McHelenny have in common."

Izzy was surprised once more by the guy wearing black shoes with his beige suit.

"All three were California state long jump champions." Merrill Hodges beamed as though he had just won a state spelling bee.

Barry Bonds had lettered in three sports at Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, an all boys catholic school named for Father Junipero Serra who founded on the backs of Native Americans, the twenty-one California missions strung from San Diego to Sonoma.

From the backs of Natives to Vatican canonization. Go figure.

Bonds graduated from the peninsula powerhouse a dozen years after Lynn Swann did and a dozen years before a kid named Tom Brady shook off shoulder pads to don cap and gown. And, one of Bonds’ teammates in school, was now quite the prominent businessman.

The center fielder on that Serra squad, known then as Sandy Beach, was known these days for his string of very profitable sports bars. Few people knew that on the high school diamond, he and Barry had been partners in the outfield. Fewer still, if any, knew that they were still partners. Until earlier that week, Barry Bonds had been Head Cheat’s "silent" partner who shared in the heady growth of Cheaters sports bars.

Sports bars, subliminally or otherwise, can be judged by your Average Joe by the memorabilia they, well, sport. Neither Bonds nor Head were psychologists but they rightly reckoned slews of Cheaters customers would visit, and visit, and re-visit their bars, if such a prize souvenir was rotated throughout the chain to be ogled by sports fans in sixty two different locations-- and growing.

Barry Bonds and Head Cheat were so confident that home run ball number one-thousand would magnetize the public, that three days earlier, Cheaters had initiated a blanket adverting campaign to announce its ten million dollar bounty. Ten million dollars all right. And, box seats for life at AT&T. And, tickets for life for all Forty-Niner games to be played in their new home, Levi’s Stadium. And, box seats for life, rink-side in The Tank, for all San Jose Sharks hockey matches. And, an orange and black Chevy Corvette. And, a limitless, one-year tab, at any and all Cheaters locations.

All season long, The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown had offered $5 million for the eminent historic home run ball. But once Cheaters announced its dramatic offer, the Hall was compelled to up its ante. To ten, it went. And at ten it froze because true to form, an ownership committee had wasted three days making zero headway toward lining up season tickets at even one of the twenty-five other ball parks.

"Now batting..."

The U. S. S. Enterprise had once again come alongside AT&T Park. And this time it felt like she might plow inside right past the left fielder.

"Here we are once again, on the precipice... striking for infamy."

Sammy winced.

Phil Sage smiled.

Barry Bonds dug in to the batters box... and dug in.. then stepped out... then dug in. Andy Messersmith didn’t dig those antics, so he stepped off the mound. Bonds stepped out. Messersmith stepped back onto the mound. Bonds stepped in. Bonds stepped out. The home plate umpire shrieked. Bonds stepped back in.

The first pitch was a rusty Gillette. That is, it almost nicked Bonds’ chin. The boos from the Enterprise sounded like a Spielberg space ship rocketing past.

Unfazed, Bonds stepped back in, pounded his bat on the plate twice, raised it to a rest upon his shoulder, then fixed on Messersmith his, "you boor me to tears" expression.

"Here’s the pitch!" Whammo! The crack of Bonds’ bat might have been heard as far away as Turlock in the Central Valley. Perhaps beyond, to Reno. Des Moines?

"Holy Moly! Back! Back! Waaaaaaay back!" Vin Hodges shrieked as though striking for the infamy that had haloed his hero, Russ Hodges. His excitement was justified. A deejay and a model-anchor, a sportscaster, a deejay and a stylish fellow in black shoes, and a Roger and a Turbo and a Fanny, ducked (darn, wouldn’t four seats ducking have been a sight to behold?). But the ducks were for naught. Barry Bonds had launched Messersmith’s one-strike slider in an arc high over their heads into McCovey Cove.

It looked as though a piranha had swum into the cove. Rafters, kayakers, power boaters and even a couple midshipmen who had flung themselves overboard from their Coast Guard cutter were scrambling to retrieve home run ball number 999. A scrum of boaters, kayakers and a couple rubber rafts was closing in on the bobbing souvenir. Had someone fired a gun, it could scarcely have been heard.

Suddenly, a gun was fired! A spear gun!? Yep, the veteran kayaker piloting his Wilderness 14 was on the move, cocked and ready. A cove newcomer in a Whaler had spun his Evinrude hard right to bring the rubber of his port side alongside the sewn rawhide ball. That’s when the guy in the Wilderness let ’er fly. Psssssssssttt. The Whaler hissed as its port side suddenly frazzled into the chop. That’s when the Coast Guard cutter flailed into the fray, out of control, engines on high octane, propellers whacking like a jungle drum. Thunk, thunk, thunk. The Wilderness tipped precariously. Seemingly, out of no where, down the cutter’s wake, a Bertram 22 roared into the fray as though it had popped a wheelie. Pop!

Vrrrrrrrrrr. The blades of the Bertram shredded into twine, the Rawlings Official Game Ball that for mere moments, had been a genuine, fully intact ball of rubber, cork, and cowhide sewn together, that Barry Bonds had whacked over a major league ballpark fence for the 999th time. The twine from the guts of the Rawlings ran out onto the Bay like a squid in heat.

No way that the seats could witness the bedlam, but that didn’t stop Sammy the Seat from rightfully concluding, "impressive, yes, but that landing will never become a Konerko."

The Pistol frowned.

When Fanny brought Phil Sage up to speed on the cutter, the Bertram, the Whaler and the Wilderness kayak, Phil stumped her when he pointed out that "kayak" is a palindrome.

"A what?"

"A word that is the same whether it is read left to right, or right to left."

"K-a-y-a-k." Fanny was thinking out loud.

"Like ’level,’" said Phil. "Or my favorite: ’racecar.’"

"What’s a Konerko, Sammy?" Johnny Pistol had never heard that one.

"Chicago’s U. S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox." Sammy sounded mournful. Of course he envied his nose-in-the-air neighbors, the plush box seats and especially the sky club seats at AT&T, but the fourth seat in the seventh row of Section 159 at Cellular Field was immortal. Nirvana to any seat anywhere. It was still painted blue; a blue island surrounded by a sea of newer, shiny green seats. Original model, chipped blue paint, armrests lower than its neighbors, and of course, no cup holder. "It’s the celebrated seat where Paul Konerko’s grand slam landed in the 2005 World Series."

Phil Sage had often wondered how the ball had struck a seat before it had hit a fan’s glove or hand. Or noggin.

"Ever seen pictures of U. S. Cellular?" asked Izzy. "Give me Comiskey Park any day."

Comiskey Park on Chicago’s South Side, had been named for the White Sox founder, Charles Comiskey, who had played a prominent role in the formation of the junior circuit, as the American League had once been disparaged. He was the rare owner who had been a major league player and manager. (As rare these days as the TV or radio station manager who has ever been behind a microphone or in front of a camera)

For eighty years, Comiskey park had been home to the White Sox. In 1991, the club moved into U. S. Cellular, which had been built right across West 35th Street from the old yard.

"Comiskey." wheezed Izzy. "Now that ball yard was iconoclastic."

"Icons of what?"

"What about the Polo Grounds?" Phil ignored Johnny Pistola. He was fishing for a heated debate.

"Which one?" Sammy sailed past Phil’s hook.

There had been four, in and around Coogans Bluff and Coogans Hollow in Central Park and in Harlem. Over the years those Polo Grounds had been home to the New York Giants baseball team, Giants football team, the New York Yankees, the New York Titans and its successor the Jets. The baseball Giants had left there for San Francisco, where Candlestick Park was being erected, a keystone of the city of San Francisco’s enticement to the club to desert the Big Apple.

Phil felt like saying the one where Roosevelt stopped one game for a forty minute speech. People were convinced that he was about to declare war.

"Elysian Fields," in Hoboken," piped Izzy. "Ere we forget?" Elysian Fields was considered the birthplace of organized baseball. In 1845, Knickerbocker Club of New York City took up home there because the club couldn’t find sufficient space to play in Manhattan.

Phil resisted pointing out that the fields had been named for Elysium, the final resting place in Greek mythology for the heroic and the virtuous. Hades had run the joint. So he tacked: "William Cammeyer was the first to charge admission to a major league stadium. He enclosed Union Yards in Brooklyn. Charge to get in? Ten cents."

"The Giants wind up this 3-game series with a Sunday afternoon matinee at 12:05 Barry Zito will face off with the Dodgers’ Chan Ho Park."

"When Chan Ho Park retires and returns to South Korea," fired the Pistol. "Will they name a park after him? Chan Ho Park Park?"

Next Chapter: 6                          Ba pa, pa, pa, pa, pa...