Bonds in field for first time in '06

Slugger strikes out, homers, but right knee untested on defense

Bonds is untested in defensive debut

March 13, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- More than an inch of rain soaked the Valley of the Sun the past two days, putting an exhibition game yesterday between the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres in doubt and the 2006 left-field debut of Barry Bonds, the Giants' controversial star, in jeopardy.

The sun returned after the area's first rainfall in nearly five months, the field at Scottsdale Stadium drained sufficiently and Bonds, who had been limited to only two at-bats as a designated hitter in spring training, took another step toward regaining his status as the game's most feared slugger.

After watching a called third strike on an inside fastball by Padres starter Woody Williams in the second inning, Bonds redirected a 1-2 curveball by Williams in the fourth into the right-field bleachers about 375 feet away. The two-run homer tied the game, eventually won by the Padres, 10-6.

It was certainly the highlight of a trying spring for Bonds, who has spent most of his time here rehabilitating the recurring injury to his right knee that caused him to miss all but 14 games last season while continuing to avoid questions surrounding an explosive new book detailing his alleged steroid use.

Unlike last week, when Bonds had a couple of testy exchanges with reporters when excerpts of Game of Shadows appeared in Sports Illustrated, there was no mention made of the soon-to-be released book yesterday. The questions seemed to focus on Bonds' defense.

"We know he can hit home runs," said Giants manager Felipe Alou. "You see the guy taking BP and hit balls over the next county or whatever. The concern here is that we want to see him on the field. The swing is the same, the power is the same, the eye and everything, we want to get him ready on defense."

Whether Bonds can still play in the field remains an issue, since the closest he came to fielding a ball yesterday was on a bloop that dropped foul in short left field and a shallow pop fly that shortstop Jose Vizcaino caught several yards in front of Bonds.

Reminded that his defense has yet to be tested, Bonds smiled.

"Thank, God," he said.

Once considered the best left fielder in the game, Bonds said that running after balls isn't his biggest concern.

"Running doesn't bother me; standing around is more aggravating, waiting for things to happen," Bonds said.

Asked if he does anything to prevent the knee from stiffening in the outfield, Bonds joked, "Make a couple of phone calls to God, and ask him to bring somebody out there so I can sit down in a chair and relax, but I didn't want to give [the media] any ammunition to say Bonds is in a chair."

Because of the weekend rain, there was some question as to whether Bonds would even play yesterday. One lineup card issued a few hours before game time didn't have the 41-year-old's name on it, and then another showed Bonds in his customary cleanup spot between Steve Finley (who celebrated his 41st birthday yesterday) and 36-year-old journeyman Mark Sweeney.

Bonds said that he had no idea that he wasn't in the original lineup, but Alou said later that Bonds informed the team trainers that he could play after the lineup was first posted. Bonds will now have a day off when the Giants travel to Tucson today to play the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"Sometimes in spring training, the more days off the better," Bonds said.

The fans here wanted to see Bonds, regardless of the unsavory allegations swirling around him. Unlike last week, when Bonds appeared as a designated hitter against the Angels in nearby Tempe and was greeted with more boos than cheers, the reception yesterday was a lot warmer, though not without its detractors.

"I'm just glad to have him back," said Matt Shelton, a 24-year-old senior at Arizona State wearing a replica Bonds jersey. "This might be his last go-around. I'm glad he came back and is playing here instead of going to the World Baseball Classic so fans here can see him."

Clearly, the Giants are hoping that Bonds is ready when the season begins next month and Bonds renews his chase of both Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. With 708 home runs over his 20-year career, Bonds is six behind Ruth and 47 behind Aaron.

Sweeney said it was good to see a player known for being moody smiling after his first home run of the spring, but Bonds doesn't want his teammates to think that he can still carry them as he has done before.

"It's important for them to do their job and me to do my job and all of us to do it together," Bonds said. "Then we all click together, that's when good things happen. If you're waiting for me to do it, you might be waiting forever. This is a team thing."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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