Thursday, July 24, 2014

Barry Bonds: How Do We Celebrate 50 Years?

50 years today: b. July 24, 1964
I walked into the boutique on Chestnut Street in San Francisco and looked at the tall, fit African American man standing in front of me as though I knew him. He looked sharp in his sky blue Izod Lacoste polo shirt, fresh sneaks, stylish watch; he was rockin' the shoulder bag too. I was trying to figure out why he looked so familiar and then I heard his voice. I know that voice; San Francisco Giants fans know that voice too. It's somewhat high pitched, a little soft spoken. It's the voice of the Home Run King* Barry Bonds. Today is his 50th Birthday.

Barry Bonds. I wish I could liken this story to that of the Good Shepherd. John 10 states "he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run way from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me."

Indeed, we know Bonds voice, but unfortunately, it's not for reasons that we might associate with Christ's parable of the Good Shepherd.

On the Feast of the Good Shepherd, Pope Francis preached on how one might become more like Christ in this way. According to the Holy Father, a telltale sign of a good shepherd is this: they smell like sheep. 

"You know how you smell like sheep?" he queried. "Well, spend a lot of time with sheep and you know one thing: they don't smell good." In order to smell like sheep, you have to roll up your sleeves and jump in—up close and personal, get down and dirty. Although you smelling like sheep might not be a welcome thing, something else will transpire. They will know you. A relationship will develop. They will listen and follow. Loyalty, understanding, affection, and it won't run one way. 
Bonds watching "Bonds on Bonds"
Unfortunately there are many examples that point to how and why Bonds smells little to anything like his teammates. Bonds never showed up for the team photo. He was always photoshopped in to include the face of the MVP for the poster. He never ate the team spread. Nothing is more communal than breaking bread together. Bonds ate elsewhere. And what many find most egregious is that he had his own corner and the proverbial recliner in the locker room. A former baseball coach I work with said "He was a selfish teammate, an inattentive father and husband and a poor role model." What bothers me most however is that it could have been different.

Bonds filled the seats in the stadium. We celebrated wildly when he broke the Home Run record, albeit not everyone. He carried the team into the 2002 World Series and helped the G-men ear the 1997, 2000 and 2003 West Division titles. The son of a former Giants and the Godson of the greatest one, Willie Mays, we wanted to love #25. We wanted to stand tall and proud behind who could be the greatest Giants of all time. For many reasons, Bonds made this difficult.
He completed his career with 762
However, I think it's important to point that some people do stand behind him. Perhaps you have heard, there is a group that is using Kickstarter to crowdfund the construction of a life-size bronze statue of Barry Bonds, to be installed near AT&T Park. One of the leaders writes:

Barry Bronze is a purely positive campaign, and we're ready to work with anyone that will help us show our appreciation of a spectacular player. Bonds has made all of us better fans. His signing back in 1993 by Peter Magowan helped solidify the Giants organization here in San Francisco. In fact, Magowan realized the importance of Bonds' Bay Area roots and signed him before the Giants even had a general manager! Barry's efforts at Candlestick Park drove the Giants to build what is now known as AT&T Park, the best ballpark in the United States. Barry Bonds has delivered countless amazing memories and loads of entertainment and we just want to say thanks.
No doubt, this campaign has caused me to reflect on Bonds' career, his contributions, charisma and character. Like many things in life, it's complicated—no? On his 50th birthday, I would rather we appreciate the good times and great memories with the All-Star, even though they smell funny.
I recently learned that it wasn't until the third century that Christians started to include a crucifix or cross as a focal point of our churches The central image was one of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He knows each and everyone of us. He laid down his life for us. He led, today we continue to follow. It's hard to say that about Barry Bonds.

NB: The front office of the Giants has extended a small olive branch in asking Bonds to serve as a hitting instructor during the 2014 Spring Training. It remains in question whether or not he will be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. Bonds wasn't the only player to use steroids during the era he dominated.

Photo Credits
Good Shep

Bonds on Bonds
Bonds Today

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