Bonds has examples to follow

Friday, Dec. 4

SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Bonds sounded passionate when he spoke of perpetuating the hitting lessons he learned from his father, Bobby, and his godfather, Willie Mays. What lessons they must have been! Bobby Bonds was perhaps the most talented player of his time (if you don’t believe me, ask anyone who played with or against him), and Mays … well, nothing more really needs to be said.

During Friday’s conference call trumpeting his hiring as the Miami Marlins’ batting instructor, baseball’s all-time home run leader said that he wanted to convey “what my father taught me and what my godfather taught me.”

If Bonds accomplishes this, he’ll do just fine in his new job.

Listening to Bonds awakened a couple of memories that might be nothing more than anecdotal. Juxtaposed with what he said, however, maybe the memories have some meaning.

Bonds emphasized his awareness of the need to “be in the trenches” with his pupils, to be willing to work endlessly with them. This brought back a scene I witnessed in 1996, which was Bobby Bonds’ final year as the Giants’ hitting coach. Navigating the catacombs of Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium / Cinergy Field — I covered the Reds then — I almost literally stumbled upon the elder Bonds working with Robby Thompson on his stroke hours before a game. I hesitated ever so briefly before leaving them to their business. Yet during my pause, I took a mental photograph of the scene, fascinated as I was by the intensity of their work. Given the stature of these men and my respect for them — as well as the inescapable reality that this was another horrible Giants team (the last one for a while, actually) — I captioned this snapshot “Last vestiges of Giants pride.” Melodramatic, to be sure, but I didn’t know that Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow and Shawn Estes were on their way.

Fast-forward nine years and shift the scene to Spring Training, where Barry Bonds was testing his injured right knee by taking extra batting practice at Scottsdale Stadium. In fact, it was believed that Bonds aggravated his ailment by hitting too much that day. He ultimately missed the season’s first 142 games. For most of this session, though, Bonds looked sharp, until he figuratively stepped in quicksand and hit a succession of popups and weak grounders.

Watching every round of Bonds’ BP was the great Mays, seated on a folding chair by the third-base side of the batting cage so he could scrutinize his godson’s hitting mechanics. Interrupting Bonds’ spate of bad swings, Mays barked some brief instructions. Bonds re-settled himself in his stance and hit a line drive. He pulled the next pitch over the right-field wall. He yanked the following pitch into the picnic area. He belted the succeeding pitch even farther, into the Giants’ bullpen.

Bonds descends from a lineage of fearsome hitters. The Marlins are fortunate to be adopted into his family.

Chris Haft

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