LYNN NEARY, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
There is now a tie for baseball's all-time career home run record. Last night in San Diego, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants hit his 755th home run - the record number held by Hank Aaron alone for more than 30 years. Afterwards, Bonds appeared relieved to have finally reached the milestone.
Mr. BARRY BONDS (Left Fielder, San Francisco Giants): I just want to thank everybody. The hard part is over right now.
NEARY: Bonds hit the home run in his first at-bat in a game against the San Diego Padres.
NPR's Tom Goldman was there and filed this report.
TOM GOLDMAN: The act of hitting a home run takes about 20 seconds from the crack of ball on bat to the moment the player finishes his trot around the bases and touches home plate.
For Barry Bonds, though, number 755 began hours before game time. He'd been in a hitting slump since his last home run eight days before. So Bonds and his batting coach, Joe Lefebvre, shook up the normal pre-game batting practice routine Saturday afternoon.
Mr. BONDS: Joe wanted us to be by ourselves to get away from all the attention, be able to not hit on the field when all the media is around all the time and then coming out just going through my groups and then leaving the field immediately. Take yourself away. Go, relax. Visualize the things that we did today, and then follow through it and into the game and it worked.
Unidentified Announcer: Two balls, one strike. Here's the pitch by Clay Hensley.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Unidentified Announcer: It's gone.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Unidentified Announcer: Barry Bonds has hit number 755. He has tied Hank Aaron. The Giants are coming out of the dugout. Bonds running at bases, big slap from the third-base coach.
GOLDMAN: Barry knew - hit the home run and you have 20, 30 seconds, whatever it was, to round the bases, just you by yourself. What are you actually thinking about right there?
Mechanics, Bonds said. He was thinking he finally got something right with his hitting mechanics, an honest yet prosaic answer. Reporters wanted the juicy stuff - Bonds' feelings about reaching the milestone, which he did offer up raw and unscripted later in the press conference.
Mr. BONDS: It's like Hank Aaron. I mean, you're - it's Hank Aaron. I can't explain the feeling of it. It's just Hank Aaron. And I had rashes on my head.
GOLDMAN: Chasing and reaching Aaron, he said, was the toughest thing he'd done in his long career. Of course, the elephant in the interview room was the subject of what made the chase so tough. Bonds, of course, is the face of baseball's apparent steroid era, certainly not the only player linked to banned drugs but the most prominent.
The closest anyone got to that subject was a question about the irony of Bonds hitting his home run off pitcher Clay Hensley. As a minor leaguer, Hensley was suspended for using banned drugs. Bonds, the man of many moods, lost his smile as he answered.
Mr. BONDS: I don't think we're here to discuss those matters. I think we have a great policy in this game of baseball. And we should just leave it at that.
GOLDMAN: That's probably not going to happen. Not when the commissioner of baseball releases a statement calling the home run note worthy and remarkable but also acknowledging the controversy surrounding this event. And not when the baseball fans of San Diego - normally a pretty laidback bunch - mixed boos with their cheers during Bonds' home run trot.
In case you missed it before, let's listen again.
(Soundbite of cheering and booing)
GOLDMAN: One fan, Michael Spenson(ph) of San Diego, cheered when Bonds hit the ball, then booed as that excitement gave way to doubt.
Mr. MICHAEL SPENSON (Resident, San Diego): Hank Aaron didn't cheat for sure. And I don't know. It's a difficult question.
GOLDMAN: Indeed, what is so vexing about this moment is that a celebration of the home run - one of the most definite and certain acts in sport - has left us questioning and uncertain.
After the game, Bonds kept mentioning his support for Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankee who hit his own milestone yesterday. He became the youngest player to reach 500 home runs. Many think he is the player who will break Bonds' record someday. And for the doubters out there, someday can't come soon enough.
Tom Goldman, NPR News, San Diego.
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