NEW YORK -- Barry Bonds lugs his considerable gifts and six-year, $43.75 million contract to Shea Stadium tonight, and Bobby Bonilla is certain his old Pittsburgh Pirates pal will be unencumbered by the burden of great expectations.
"You're talking about Barry. He doesn't give a hoot what people think," Bonilla said. "He'll never have a problem. Never."
Bonds is widely hailed as the best player in the game, and tonight he makes his New York debut as a San Francisco Giant.
"There's a lot of guys who can hit," Bonilla said. "His defense is just unequal to anybody. He's the best outfielder I've ever seen."
Sid Fernandez, who starts for the New York Mets, says what all National League pitchers say about Bonds: "I'd much rather have to face him with the bases empty."
But he quickly mentions Will Clark and Matt Williams and Willie McGee and Robbie Thompson and realizes that "sometimes when you think too much about one player, it seems like the other guys on the team hurt you, too." Therefore, "I'm not gonna put too much emphasis on any one person. I'm just going to go out there and try to do my job."
Bonds is batting .400 with 12 RBI and seven doubles.
"He's a tough out for me," says Doc Gooden, who works tomorrow night. "I think he is probably the best player in the game right now."
Gooden believes that Bonds would have been a natural in New York because of his temperament. "It takes a special breed to play in New York," Gooden says.
Asked if Bonds is fun to watch, Gooden smiled and said, "As long as he's playing somebody else."
Mets manager Jeff Torborg marvels at Bonds' ability to play so shallow in left field and race down balls in the alleys.
"He's such a complete player," Torborg says. "You know what he's so good at? Getting the count in his favor."
Bonilla would hardly be surprised if Bonds won a third MVP award.
"You can take, for instance, last year, he had 200 less at-bats than Terry Pendleton and maybe 150 less than [Gary] Sheffield, that's all I'll say," Bonilla said.
Sheffield hit .330 with 33 home runs and 100 RBI in 557 at-bats; Pendleton hit .311 with 21 home runs and 105 RBI in 640 at-bats; Bonds hit .311 with 34 home runs and 103 RBI in 473 at-bats.
Bonilla, who was temporarily the game's highest-paid player when he signed with the Mets for five years and $29 million, said he chatted with Bonds during his free-agency seduction.
"I told him he had basically nothing to worry about," Bonilla said, "because he's the best player in the game. Usually the best player in the game doesn't have too much to worry about."
Fernandez doesn't think Shea will respond any differently to Bonds now that he makes the most money.
"Sometimes there's too much emphasis on the highest-paid player," Fernandez said.
When someone asked Bonilla if Bonds made him a better player in Pittsburgh, he said, "He made everybody a better player."