Barry Bonds in Spotlight for All-Star Game

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San Francisco hosts Major League Baseball's All-Star game, and all eyes will be on hometown favorite, Giants' slugger Barry Bonds. He's just four home runs short of tying Hank Aaron's all-time record. But his march to glory is overshadowed by suspicions of steroids use.


San Francisco hosts Major League Baseball's All-Star Game tonight. And all eyes will be on Giants slugger Barry Bonds. He's just four home runs short of tying Hank Aaron's all-time record. Of course there are allegations that Bonds has used steroids, but that doesn't seem to bother his fans.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES: In every baseball town in America, there's probably a bar called The Double Play. The one in San Francisco sits at the corner of 16th and Bryant - not far from the site of an old minor league ballpark called Seal Stadium. Today the park is long gone, replaced by a shopping mall. But inside The Double Play there are still a lot of memories among the folks who revere America's pastime.

Mr. RONNIE SILVESTRE(ph) (Bartender): And I talk to people and they still, to this day they come in and they tell me how their father used to take them across the street to the bar and they can't believe the place is still here, and yada, yada, yada.

GONZALES: Bartender Ronnie Silvestre points at graying pictures of ballplayers long before anyone uttered the words Balco drug scandal. His brother, Bob Silvestre, says he understands why many people suspect that Barry Bonds is a cheater and user of steroids. But Silvestre says his only concern is what Bonds has done on the field.

Mr. BOB SILVESTRE (Resident, San Francisco): You know, steroids - it probably helps him a little bit. It doesn't make him hit the ball. His hand-eye coordination may be the best the game has ever seen. It would take a tremendous leap of faith at this point to think he didn't do anything. But hey, life's too short, and he's entertaining as hell, and he's a great ballplayer.

GONZALES: Still, Ronnie Silvestre says many of his customers are conflicted when it comes to Bonds.

Mr. R. SILVESTRE: That little cloud of steroids is still hanging over him. I mean there's no doubt that the guy is a great player. People respect him as a player because, I mean, there's no denying his talent. But as far as him being a personable guy, a likable guy, I think he probably overall gets a thumbs-down on that one.

GONZALES: Sports columnist Glenn Dickey says he hears the same thing all over town because Bonds has never seemed concerned with cultivating his public image. The national media can say anything it wants about him...

Mr. GLENN DICKEY (Sports Columnist): But they love Bonds, you know, at the park. And you can tell, of course, the reaction of the fans when he comes up or if he's walked, you know, they boo the pitcher. Plus the fact that after he has what appears to be his last at bat, you can just see the exodus from the seats. You know, about half the ballpark walks out. Obviously an awful lot of them come just to see Bonds.

(Soundbite of stadium)

GONZALES: Out at AT&T Park that's hardly an exaggeration. Season ticket holder Tom Bennett(ph) says Bonds is the San Francisco Giants, warts and all.

Mr. TOM BENNETT (Giants Fan): I think the news media has chastised Bonds because sometimes he hasn't been the nicest person towards them. But I think everybody loves Bonds. There's just a few people who are loud enough to think that a lot of people don't like him. And I think that's not true.

GONZALES: Nearby, Joe Lodici(ph), a high school senior visiting from Baltimore, talks like he's a local.

Mr. JOE LODICI (High School Student): Bonds is one of the greatest heroes in baseball. I love the way that he brings (unintelligible) he can clear his hands really quick. And I'm just hoping to see one go out of here soon.

GONZALES: And that's all the fans should care about, says Bonds' friend and former Mayor Willie Brown.

Mr. WILLIE BROWN (Former Mayor, San Francisco): The expectations is a homerun every time he's at bat. I'm profoundly disappointed when he doesn't deliver. But beyond that, I couldn't care less whether or not he ever becomes the poster boy for the Sunday school class to which I sent my children.

GONZALES: Brown is like many in this notoriously tolerant city, who refused to try to categorize Bonds as either a saint or a sinner. In their minds, he's just a great ballplayer who's human like the rest of us.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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