SAN FRANCISCO -- This time, he says there will be no change of heart.

Barry Bonds said in an exclusive interview Friday that he's intent on playing next season, preferably with the Giants, but elsewhere in the Major Leagues if his hometown team decides not to bring him back.

"I want to continue playing baseball, there's no doubt about it in my mind," Bonds said before Friday night's game against the division-rival Padres at AT&T Park. "My preference would be to stay home, but I don't have any control of that. We'll see what happens, what the future will bring."

Bonds statement ends months of speculation about his future. He said he made the decision during the All-Star break, but he is now comfortable talking about it after he received a respite -- however interim -- from his legal problems Thursday when U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan announced that his office hadn't sought an indictment against Bonds on the day the grand jury investigating the matter expired.

Next week, a new grand jury is expected to again start reviewing possible charges of perjury and tax evasion against Bonds within the scope of a wider steroids probe.

But the federal government must resubmit all the evidence and testimony already presented to two grand juries that have indicted five individuals involved in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) scandal. The panel has an 18-month shelf life and all that will take some time to digest.

"I wasn't worried about it before and I'm not worried about it now," Bonds said.

Thus, Bonds, who turns 42 on Monday, can now begin preparing mentally and physically to come back next year and make a concerted run at Hank Aaron's all-time home run record of 755. After his eighth-inning homer Thursday night, Bonds has 722 homers, 11 shy of Aaron's National League mark of 733 and 33 short of the all-time mark.

Bonds is also within hailing distance of 3,000 hits and 2,000 runs batted in. He went into Friday night's action with 2,794 hits and 1,897 RBIs. He has played for the Giants since 1993 when he left the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent and is now in the final months of a five-year, $90 million contract.

He can become a free agent again at the end of the postseason, but he said so far he isn't even considering that possibility.

"I can't think about anything like that until you're in the position that you have to do what you have to do," Bonds said. "No player can."

The Giants, for their part, have said that they won't make a decision about bringing back Bonds until the end of the season, and they remained true to that stance Friday.

to the babe and beyond

"I'm glad to hear that he wants to come back, not only just to play baseball, but to do it here," Peter Magowan, the team's president and managing general partner, said. "But we're not going to deal with this until the season ends, as we've said. We can't initiate these discussions until we see where we are in terms of his health, the performance of the team and other issues. We've told his agent that. We've told everybody that."

The Giants' position is consistent with how they handled Bonds after the 2001 season in which the left-handed slugger hit 73 homers to break Mark McGwire's single-season record. Bonds filed for free agency after that season, but he accepted arbitration from the Giants and took himself off the market before signing his current long-term deal.

Bonds said there has been no dialogue with the Giants about him returning to the team to break Aaron's record.

"This is the way they handled it when I hit 73 home runs, so I don't see any difference now from how they've handled things in the past," Bonds said.

Asked whether he thought in his gut he'd be back with the Giants, Bonds said:

"I don't know. I don't make those assumptions. I never have. I'll leave it up to the fans. If they want me here, I'll be happy to come back."

Bonds has gone back and forth about the issue of extending his career since the start of Spring Training. But he began to see the light on May 29, the day after he hit his 715th homer to pass Babe Ruth into second on the all-time home run list, saying before a game against the Marlins in Miami that he'd like to return next season if he remains healthy.

The knee that underwent surgery three times last year and restricted Bonds to only 14 games seems to have responded.

"I feel good," Bonds said. "My knee is pretty healthy. That's the key."

Bonds looks better in left field than he has all season and even stole second base in consecutive games against the Phillies this past weekend. He has a pair of homers, five RBIs and five runs scored in the seven games since the All-Star break. Plus, his .473 on-base percentage is the tops in the Major Leagues.

"He's obviously picked it up since the All-Star break," Magowan said. "I just think he's healthier. I predicted that. Some people said in Spring Training when he was limping around that it would get worse and worse. I thought the more he'd play, it would get better and better. And that's what's happened."

Bonds is not the player he used to be, but he still is an obvious force in the middle of the Giants' lineup.

Plus, he said he'll be able to go back to his more rigorous workouts now that the he's broken the cycle of constant rehabilitation on the knee.

"The good thing is this offseason is going to work really good for me because I don't have any major injuries I have to deal with," Bonds said. "I think last year I came back too early and my knee wasn't ready, but I wanted to help the team. I spent all last winter trying to heal it slowly and I couldn't train the way I wanted to because of the knee. Now I'll be able to go at a higher intensity level, which I wasn't able to do."