Monday, August 13, 2018

A Sports & Spirituality Story about 25: Barry Bonds

"Let me tell you a story about 25." —Danny Glover
Though sixteen other men have worn the jersey number 25, the last one to dawn it in for the San Francisco Giants is none other than the Home Run King, Barry Bonds. 25 now hangs with nine other numbers on the Giants own Hall of Fame. The team's CEO Larry Baer, noted that 30,176 men have worn MLB uniforms. Baer continued, “Only 199, less than six-tenths of one percent, have been so extraordinary, so etched into the story of a franchise, that it would be impossible to imagine their number ever gracing another man’s back. And that’s what we have here with Barry Bonds.” Such distinction merits a story.

Thus, on Saturday, August 11, 2018, in what was a beautiful evening in the City by the Bay, some the games' all-time greats and Giants' All-Stars were on deck to share their own story about 25. I don't doubt that every fan in the house could do the same. And, I wonder in the future when a child asks their mom or dad, aunt or uncle about 25, what story will be told? Here's the story I'd like to tell about 25—Sports and Spirituality style.

Bonds played in Major League Baseball from 1986 until 2007, coming to San Francisco in 2003 after seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. His stats are remarkable, downright breath-taking—a word I use intentionally. Take a look
  • 7-time MVP
  • 14-time All-Star
  • 8-time Gold Glove winner
  • 14-time Silver Slugger award winner
  • 6 Division Titles
  • 73 Home Runs: a single-season record.... One that complemented THE record:
  • 762 Home Runs
  • 35 Splash Hits: an HR that goes outside of Pac Bell/AT&T Park and into San Francisco Bay
  • 2558 walks: (perhaps more than once) a pitcher walked Bonds with the bases loaded.
Those numbers tell a significant part of the story about 25, but it didn't end there. Glover framed things perfectly when he stated: "You know what was bigger than the records he shattered? It's the way he stole our breath with every swing." As a baseball fan, I agree. As a sports fan, I concur. And, as a Giants fan, I know. 

What intrigues me most in this story about 25 are those four words: "he stole our breath." Glover invites fans to remember those moments where we stood in utter disbelief. When all we could say was "wow!" if that. To have our breath stolen means that air—a source of life— is taken from us. There is, however, nothing pejorative about his remark. But in my story, I think otherwise.

I listened to the ceremony on KNBR 680 AM radio. It was a treat for me to imagine the events as they unfolded. My mind and heart put color—far beyond orange and black—to the celebration. I thought about AT&T Park in its glory, the left field wall ready for its newest number. I rejoiced when I heard that Giants first baseman Will Clark got a standing ovation. I was thrilled Robb Nen was in the house and not surprised that Jeff Kent wasn't. I found myself car dancing when Bonds walked through the centerfield gates to "The Next Episode." I already knew how dapper 25 would look, how fit he is—a truth confirmed by Giants announcer Jon Miller. I got choked up several times, recalling the memories of so many seasons and the reality that it is because of 25 that we now have a downtown ballpark in SF. They refer to Yankee Stadium as "the House that Ruth built," but Giants fans would be misguided if they didn't recognize our cathedral as "the House that Bonds built". And yet, as I listened to the entire ceremony, I realized that at times, it was hard to breathe...once again, it had been stolen. Part of me was uncomfortable....I found myself waiting for a shoe to drop....wondering if anyone would address the elephant in the stadium. Doubting that was even possible....

Bonds watching "Bonds on Bonds" a reality TV show that lasted 2 months
A day like August 11, 2018—a great day in San Francisco Giants history—is meant to be a day of celebration. Days like this one are not meant to be truth-telling or discerning, and yet because of that, I must admit—it felt inauthentic. And the reason that I editorialize my story in this way extends beyond my belief that Barry Bonds used anabolic steroids. To a certain degree, I fault MLB for not testing for HGH and other PEDs as the game did what it could to recover from the 1994 strike (a shortened season). Like his Godfather, I believe Bonds should be put in the Hall of Fame, with—not an asterik—but the information that Bonds' name appears in the Mitchell Report. We: the fans— those interested in the story— can make our own decisions and judgments. This chapter in 25's career is real, but what—at times was harder for me to hold—is that Bonds was a difficult teammate. Sportsmanship is not a word associated with 25. 

Many fans will offer their own story. The media is relentless and I don't really feel the need to defend them, but the image of his recliner in the designated part of the locker room or his refusal to show up for the team photo, sear my memory. The book "Love Me, Hate Me" might be unfair—it did not include Bonds as one of 500 interviews,—but from them, Sports Illustrated's sportswriter Jeff Pearlman concludes that "his reputation as an insufferable braggart, whose mythical home runs are rivaled only by his legendary ego is deserved." The book's description on Amazon adds, "Bonds inspires a like amount of passion from both sides of the fence. For many, Bonds belongs beside Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron in baseball's holy trinity; for others, he embodies all that is wrong with the modern athlete: aloof; arrogant; alienated." Perhaps Bonds could have addressed that he was, quite often, a difficult teammate. Maybe he regrets some of his choices. He wouldn't be the first or the last. Those at the center of the celebration can be humble in victory. There was space for adoration and atonement, glory and remembering those good times. I just wish he had shared a human bend to it all—flawed, fragile, broken and reborn.
I do love that swing.
The root of the word spirituality is spiritus, Latin for spirit or breath. The etymology of this word has always resonated with me and my understanding of spirituality. The spirit was alive on Saturday, August 11, 2018. At times it was made visible in the hugs, cheers and tears, smiles and the swagger. But it was also taken away as it has before with 25, for better and for worse.

Photo Credits
Bleacher Report: A GREAT summary of the day!
Behind the Scenes with BB

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