AT&T PARK — Of the 586 home runs Barry Bonds hit as a San Francisco Giant, there’s one that stands out to owner Peter Magowan: The first, on April 7, 1993, off of Rheal Cormier in St. Louis.
“There are other more important ones,” Magowan said on Saturday. “I had a lot riding on that first appearance he would make as a Giant.”
Fourteen years and eight months after Magowan and San Francisco signed Bonds, on Aug. 8, 2007, he hit another home run — No. 756, to break Hank Aaron’s all-time record. That one reached all the way across the country to two young college ballplayers, who stood in the home dugout on Saturday and watched as the Giants retired Bonds’s No. 25.
“I remember being at a host family’s house, playing ping pong,” said infielder Chase d’Arnaud, who was playing in the summer wood bat Cape Cod League that summer. “We were watching.”
D’Arnaud and his teammates on the Orleans Cardinals, including Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, had the television on as they were playing doubles ping pong. Across the pool table in the living room, they heard Bonds approach the plate at AT&T Park, and they put their paddles down.
“When he came up, all of our eyes went to the television, and everybody stopped what they were doing and just watched,” d’Arnaud said.
In the clubhouse Saturday, d’Arnaud begins rocking his arms back and forth, holding an imaginary bat.
“He gets that pitch, and puts both hands in the air, all of our eyes were glued on the television,” d’Arnaud said, as he, too, extended his arms above his head. “That was really special.”
Crawford, who grew up a Giants fan in Mountain View, walked Bonds’s mother, Pat, out to the dais on Saturday.
Growing up in Southern California, d’Arnaud attended Anaheim Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers games regularly, but didn’t have any affinity for either team, in particular. Still, Bonds was Bonds. When d’Arnaud met Bonds during spring training this year, he soaked up all he could.
“That guy’s a stud. He comes to spring training, and he tells us to pick his brain. He’s the man,” d’Arnaud said.
Bonds was known for his healthy self image. This week, his former manager Jim Leyland told a local radio station that he remembered the first time Bonds faced Doc Gooden, in 1987.
When a reporter asked Bonds if he was intimidated by the prospect of facing Gooden, then at the height of his powers, Bonds said, “He should be afraid of me.” With a 3-0 count in the top of the second and a man on first, that day, Bonds hit his 40th career home run.
While Bonds’s speech to Giants fans on Saturday was overwhelmingly humble — he thanked his mom for signing him up for baseball as a kid; he choked up remembering his father; he let Willie Mays play the campaign manager for the Hall of Fame and a statue outside of AT&T — what d’Arnaud took from Bonds was, primarily, his confidence, and his hitting philosophy.
“Aside from his confidence, I could tell that he’s the type of guy that believes in the top hand, kept his front side close,” d’Arnaud said. “He would talk about that, and even though when you watch his mechanics, his front shoulder rotates, in his mind, he didn’t want to, so in his head, he was trying to keep it here as long as he can, until that hip just has to give.”
“He helps out the kids,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He talks to them, comes into meetings, he’d talk hitting, comes by here occasionally and he’ll hangin the clubhouse. If guys want to talk to him, or go down to the cage, he’s always ready to offer up any information or advice that can make these guys better.
Bochy — who was Bonds’s fourth and final skipper — had his own home run memories of Bonds.
One home run stuck out in particular: June 5, 2002.Bonds hit a grand slam at Qualcomm Park that day against Bochy’s San Diego Padres that hit the base of the scoreboard in right field. Estimated distance: 482 feet.
“Dennis Tankersly had a no-hitter going, and he walked three guys, and didn’t have a place to put Barry,” Bochy said. “So, he pitched to him. He hit one off the scoreboard. I’d never seen one hit to right field, that had to be one of his longest. Barry could tell you, but it had to be right up there.”