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Friday, March 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

The Bonds Show is here to stay

Seattle Times baseball reporter

TEMPE, Ariz. — Barry Bonds still has goals for this season.

Big, sweeping goals, which comes as a disappointment to those of us who prefer that he just disappear and take his intermittent steroids eruptions, and his increasingly problematic pursuit of Hank Aaron, with him.

Naturally, Bonds isn't going to make it that easy. As ever, he's defiant, warming up to the battle, seemingly invigorated by his latest, and greatest, controversy.

He wants to play as many games in 2006 as he possibly can — 162 if his knee holds up, he said Thursday.

He wants to lead the Giants to another World Series. He wants to get the 248 hits necessary to reach 3,000 — yet another milestone in a career dotted with them.

That would surely take at least two seasons, perhaps enough time for him to bag Aaron's record as well, as distasteful as that prospect is to anyone who cares about the integrity of baseball.

No, Barry Bonds isn't going anywhere — unless Bud Selig suspends him, an action which the commissioner is considering, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

Godspeed, Bud, but unless and until that happens, Bonds is going to continue to be the fraudulent focus of the baseball world, endlessly compelling even as the illegitimacy of his late-career surge becomes more apparent by the excerpt.

Thursday, he emerged from the haze of the latest San Francisco Chronicle bombshell to make his first appearance of the season for the Giants in an exhibition game against the Angels.

It was his first spring appearance since 2004, actually, and when he stepped to the plate in the first inning as the designated hitter, fans booed loudly. No big shock.

But guess what? A substantial portion of the crowd of 5,831 at Tempe Diablo Stadium cheered — maybe a 50-50 split. One fan yelled, "Can you give me some juice, Barry?" But another yelled, "Barry, we love you!"

They cheered robustly when he chased a high and outside fastball from Hector Carrasco to strike out in the first. And they cheered just as lustily when he laced a single to right in the third.

When Bonds was done for the day and trotted out of the ballpark with his entourage, which on this day consisted of the usual — two personal trainers, a personal photographer, one of his two publicists, and three camera people connected to his ESPN reality show — they pleaded for his autograph.

So much for the idea that Bonds is a baseball pariah. It's clear that there will always be a portion of the public that either refuses to believe the mounting evidence in front of it, or more likely, simply doesn't care.

Bonds motored back to Scottsdale Stadium, where he held court with a large media contingent in the Giants' clubhouse for 20 minutes in a surprisingly affable interview, under the circumstances.

Those incendiary circumstances — an upcoming book that paints him as a long-time steroids abuser — were off limits in the interview, naturally. At least three times when reporters tried to sneak in a steroids question, he replied, coldly, "Do you want to talk baseball, or do you not want to talk at all?"

When someone pressed him for his reaction to the book, "Game of Shadows," by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, he said, "I'll react to baseball questions, or we won't have a conversation. That's my reaction."

But when someone wondered about his mental state, Bonds smiled and said with jocularity, "I haven't shot anyone yet. That's pretty good. I haven't killed anyone. I haven't gone psycho."

He said that his pursuit of Aaron's mark of 755 home runs — 47 home runs away — is not his focus.

"I'm not out there to play for a record," he said. "You go out there and play for that stuff, you're going to have a bad year. I'm going out there and trying to win a World Series and ... let everything else take care of itself."

The one milestone he acknowledged going after is 3,000 hits. "That's something I'd like to do, pretty much more than anything else. Just so I can talk [trash to] Tony Gwynn."

Mostly, Bonds talked about his yearning to play, about getting his rickety, arthritic knee into shape so that he can keep going up there to hit, keep getting cheered and booed and investigated and chased by mobs of reporters like the one that followed his every step Thursday.

"I think about it every year," he said with a laugh when the subject of retirement was broached. "I don't know what keeps bringing me back. The first and the 15th. I pay child support, y'all. I gotta have a job."

Like it or not, Barry Bonds isn't going anywhere.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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