RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Major League Baseball has a new all-time home run king. Barry Bonds hit number 756 last night at his home field in San Francisco. In doing so, Bonds toppled Hank Aaron, who had held the career home run record since 1974.
NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES: After Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron's record at Petco Park in San Diego over the weekend, the slugger said the hard part was over. Yet on his first night back in San Francisco Monday against the Washington Nationals, Bonds went hitless in three at bats with one walk. But last night was another story.
(Soundbite of baseball game)
CROWD: Barry. Barry. Barry. Barry. Barry.
GONZALES: With a capacity crowd of more than 43,000 people standing every time he approached the batter's box, Bonds set a double on the second inning and a single in the third. He looked locked-in, as they say, and there was a little doubt in the fifth inning when he launched a three-ball, two-strike pitch to the deepest part of AT&T Park, some 435 feet from home plate.
(Soundbite of game)
GONZALES: It was a solo home run. As he rounded the bases suppressing a smile, Bonds' teammates and families streamed off to greet him. Fireworks showered the field. An errant fan ran across left field only to be mercilessly tackled by a bevy of security guards. The game was stopped for 10 minutes for a tribute to Bonds, the highlight of which was a videotaped congratulatory message from the man whose home run record Bonds broke - Hank Aaron.
Mr. HANK AARON (Former Baseball Player): It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity and determination.
GONZALES: Aaron was barely audible above the crowd's cheers and surprise. The former all-time home run leader had let it be known that he had little interest in being there when Bonds broke his 33-year-old record. Yet there he was, graciously offering his best wishes to Bonds. Aaron said he hoped Bonds' achievement would inspire others to chase their own dreams.
In his news conference after the game, a relaxed and smiling Bonds was obviously moved.
Mr. BARRY BONDS (San Francisco Giants): It meant everything. It meant absolutely everything. We have all admired Hank Aaron, we all have a lot of respect for him - everyone in the game. Right now everything's just like hit me so fast, I'm just lost for words again, but it was absolutely the best, absolutely the best.
GONZALES: Conspicuous in his absence was baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Instead he sent hall of famer Frank Robertson as his representative. Selig did phone in his congratulations to Bonds, a gesture the slugger said he accepted. But if the message of the commissioner's absence was to suggest that Bonds' record is tainted by allegations of steroid use, well, Bonds flatly rejected that notion.
Mr. FRANK ROBERTSON (Former Baseball Player): His record is not tainted at all - at all, period.
GONZALES: As for the pitcher who delivered the home run pitch, Washington's Mike Bacsik said he was disappointed to give up the home run. Bacsik said he was trying to challenge Bonds, throwing down and away, but left the ball over the plate.
Mr. MIKE BACSIK (Baseball Player, Washington Nationals): I dreamed of this as a kid. Unfortunately, when I dreamed about it I thought I'd be the one hitting the home runs, and not giving it up.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GONZALES: As for the ball itself, it wound up in the hands of 22-year-old Matt Murphy from Queens. He was bloodied and is clothes torn as security guards hustled him and his prize ball out of the park. The ball was estimated to be worth maybe a half million dollars or more.
One final note, the Giants lost the game to the Nationals, 8-6.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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