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Weight of wait is lifted for Bonds
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04/12/2004 10:22 PM ET
Weight of wait is lifted for Bonds
Slugger at home with legends, fans and Mays
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
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 John Schlegel

NHL legend Wayne Gretzky (left) and NBA great Bill Russell helped pay tribute to Barry Bonds before Monday's game. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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SAN FRANCISCO -- As a majestic blast like no other for Barry Bonds went rocketing off his bat Monday afternoon, headed toward a watery end in McCovey Cove, the superstar going on 40 had to feel like a kid again, even if only for a few moments.

After a winter of soul-searching and controversy swirling around him, Bonds exuded utter relief and joy upon reaching the first milestone that really means something to him, not only as a ballplayer but as a person.

After a week of trying, probably too hard, for homer No. 660, one swing made it all better. The weight of the wait to stand beside Willie Mays at third on the all-time homers list is lifted.

Bonds can smile again, and he's not alone.

Somewhere, Bobby Bonds has to be smiling. His kid, now 39 and in his 18th season in the Majors, really did it this time.

And right there, in person, was Mays himself, ready to give the younger Bonds a hug that comes from not only from a godfather, but from a man who has filled the void left behind by the death of a father and a hitting coach.

Bonds may have matched him in homers, but there really is no match for Mays, considered by many the best all-around player in the game's history and at age 72 certainly one of baseball's living treasures. Standing next to Mays at 660 is quite the accomplishment.

It's greater than 73, and greater than 500 or 600, and it's not because of the number. It's because of the man who set the number.

"I think this is probably the icing on the cake," Bonds said. "I really wish my dad could have been here to be a part of this, but it's a great honor to be able to do this today, at home with Willie here."

You could almost see a lifetime of relief as Bonds floated around the bases after sending No. 660 over the arcade at SBC Park for a Splash Hit. It was a splash that sent ripples of greatness through baseball history, through Bonds' life and family, and through the ballpark where he has reached so many milestones -- but none quite like this.

This one brought him back to being a kid.

"I just really can't believe it, being 4 years old at the time my dad came up into the Major Leagues and having an idol like Willie Mays take me under his wing, and now sitting up here in front of all you people answering questions about what it's like to tie the man that you've respected your entire life," Bonds said at his post-milestone press conference.

Bonds is not merely surrounded by greatness anymore. Now he stands beside the epitome of greatness in his eyes. He stands next to Willie Mays.

He stood among other greats in pregame ceremonies of what turned out to be a truly grand Opening Day at SBC Park. Bonds accepted the trophy for the 2003 National League MVP award, his record sixth such honor. He did so humbled by the presence of nine-time National Hockey League MVP Wayne Gretzky and five-time National Basketball Association MVP Bill Russell, who brought close friend Bobby Bonds' memory to the fore in his brief comments to the crowd.

After a week in hostile territory, Bonds was clearly among friends at the house he has made home to so much baseball history since it opened in 2000. He was there beside two great ones in other sports. He was there beside his teammates, a group that more and more seems to have embraced what he's doing and how he handles his lofty position.

And he was there in front of 42,448 fans in San Francisco, a crowd that gave him a warm reception in lineup introductions.

The ovation did have a few boos scattered among the cheers, presumably a reaction to his ties to the BALCO investigation and speculation about steroid use. But anybody trying to boo as Bonds rounded the bases after hitting No. 660 would have needed a microphone and a set of concert amps turned up to 11 to be heard. The people of the Giants spoke, and spoke loudly, with their reaction to the homer and the man who hit it.

Certainly, the man who plucked the ball out of McCovey Cove said volumes by ignoring the lure of thousands of dollars -- not huge money but not cash you'd drop in the bay, either -- and doing the right thing by giving up the ball, knowing as a Giants fan just how much it means.

"I'm sure it's been tough on him," said Larry Ellison, a computer executive who's not the Oracle chairman of the same name. "I sympathize with him. I didn't want to give him any grief at all."

His reward? About one minute of quality time and a photo op with the two men any Giants fan would love to stand next to, even just for one minute.

Click, click. The milestone moment is over, just like that.

As has always been the case with Bonds these past few years, one milestone begets a quest for another. But he maintained Monday that he still has only one goal in mind.

"A championship," he said. "That's it."

That said, there's 661 and 700 for the rest of us to look forward to, then thoughts of 715 to pass Babe Ruth, and dreams of 756 to pass Hank Aaron -- all within the realm of possibility.

"History has to keep going," Mays said.

But for right now, standing beside a legend, a mentor and the only father figure he has left is plenty for Barry Bonds.

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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