Barry-ing the Hatchet With Mr. Bonds

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BEN MARGOT/AP

Bonds looks skyward as he crosses home plate after hitting his 60th home run

I never wanted to write a kind word about Barry Bonds.

We have a history, the San Francisco slugger and me. Years before he began his assault on Mark McGwireís homerun record, Bonds broke my heart. Back in the early Ď90s, he belied his bravado, choked stupendously during key playoff games, and left my beloved Pirates dangling just short of the World Series. Two years in a row I sat watching the hated Atlanta Braves play for the championship, gnashing my teeth and cursing Barry Bonds.

It wasnít just that he left us hanging that hardened the city against him. It wasnít merely bruised pride. It was his utter lack of civility, his cursory attention to team dynamics, his outspoken disdain for Pittsburgh and its fans that turned me against him. He was cold and downright mean — a far cry from players like Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski, whose names still elicit a misty tear or two from die-hard Bucs fans.

The sad fact of the matter was that Bonds didnít want to be in Pittsburgh, and perhaps more than that, he didnít want to be playing for the Pirates. So he got his chance to jump ship, and zipped over to the San Francisco Giants, his fatherís old team. And in recent years he has settled into something resembling a relationship with the community there, occasionally even stepping outside his hauteur to smile, sign a ball or lend his name to a charity event.

By all reports, heís still not exactly Mr. Congeniality — if Bonds were to leave, at least one fellow Giant has said, there would be plenty of dry eyes in the clubhouse. But heís happier, more willing to share himself with fans, than he ever was in Pittsburgh. And if I were a truly good person, that would be enough for me; it would smooth my ruffled feathers to know Bonds has found a home.

Apparently, I am not a very good person. During my annual visit to San Franciscoís ballpark, I catcall the newly muscled Barry as he stands in the outfield. I holler at him, make loud choking noises, yell rhetorical questions: "Hey Barry, nice one! Why couldnít you play like that in Pittsburgh?!" I pull my Pirates hat down low over my eyes and glower at the disgustingly cheerful Giants fans, who are all chatting away on their late-model Nokias and sipping celery sodas.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend, a San Francisco native and loyal Giants fan, slips lower into his seat and tugs on my sleeve. "Pleeeeease, pleeeease be quiet," he implores, grinning sheepishly at neighboring fans. "Sheís still a little bit angry at Barry." Itís childish, perhaps, this animosity. But Iím told itís also extremely healthy. Rather than focus on the Piratesí poor performance, I can channel my grouchiness in the direction of Barry Bonds.

Now, of course, with his attack on the homerun record, Bonds is making it very difficult for those of us who still resent him. Not only is he making headlines, heís also proving himself a truly gifted hitter, reminding Pirates fans, once again, of what might have been. His greatness is increasingly inescapable — as is my boyfriendís undisguised glee. Thursday night, Bonds hit his 60th, on pace to meet, or even break McGwireís record. As Ed watched SportsCenter and I sat nearby reading, Bondsí season in homeruns played across the screen. "Will you look at that," Ed murmured in wonder. "Thatís something else." I glanced up, distracted by the swelling, Roy Hobbs-esque music, and saw Bonds rip another homer.

And then I saw something Iíd never seen before: A smile play across the sluggerís face as he stood lost in the moment, watching the ball linger over the outfield lights. Something very small inside me loosened, unraveled, and I found myself smiling with him. Itís not love — but it may be acceptance. Itís awfully hard, after all, to fight someone whoís finally found peace.