SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Barry Bonds strolled into the indoor batting cage to join his hitters at work and immediately shut the door.
He was the major distraction Friday. No getting around it when you’re wearing a Marlins uniform in your old ballpark.
Bonds is all smiles these days in front of the cameras, seemingly content in his new role as Miami’s hitting coach when initially the job left him longing to get back in the batter’s box and swing for the fences as he used to making his living clearing outfield walls.
“At first in spring training, the emotions (were tough) because I’m used to being on the field with them and being in the dugout watching them biting my lip and going, ‘Oh, I wish I could do this, oh, I wish I could do that,’” Bonds said Friday, sitting in the visitor’s dugout at AT&T Park. “You have to take a step back and realize your job is different. You can’t be a player anymore, you have to be a coach.”
In fact, he likes this coaching thing so much he will consider giving it another year beyond 2016. He isn’t ruling out that possibility yet, at least.
Even with all the extra hours at the ballpark spent in the batting cage and studying video, and the early wakeup calls at spring training he had forgotten about since his playing days ended in 2007.
“He’s behaving, I’ll leave it at that,” joked assistant hitting coach Frank Menechino.
In the house that Bonds built, the home run king returned to AT&T Park, hoping for a warm reception in the Bay Area where he grew up and played the final 15 of his 22 major league seasons.
And he got it, bringing out the lineup card before first pitch to a warm ovation and chants of “Barry! Barry!” He tipped his cap.
“It’s good to see him in baseball. It really is. He’s doing what he wants to do,” said Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, who managed Bonds’ final season of ‘07. “He’s got a passion for it. Good for him. I’m sure he’ll do a great job over there.”
While Bonds isn’t making any big decisions about his coaching future beyond this season, he is enjoying his new role.
“I do like it, I do like it a lot. It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Miami’s been great, the people have been great, the fans have been great, the media’s been great. I haven’t had this much good press in my entire life and I like it. I’m liking it, I should have done this a long time ago.”
He had never really looked around the visiting clubhouse until Friday. Just a couple of times to say hello to former manager Jim Leyland and ex-teammate Matt Williams last year.
Giants CEO Larry Baer spoke to Bonds about celebrating him during this visit, but Bonds politely declined.
“We had a talk about that. He wanted to do something when I came back. We sat down and talked about it and I felt that it wasn’t really the right time,” Bonds said. “It’d be kind of weird. My boss is Jeffrey (Loria) now. I want to respect him and want to respect the Marlins. We’re here to play the Giants and put on a good performance. It’s more respectful to the Miami fans and Miami people and if the Giants want to do something at a later date with me in the right uniform, I think that’s more appropriate.”
The 51-year-old Bonds, a seven-time NL MVP who hit 762 home runs, applies what he learned from his late father, Bobby, and his godfather, Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who turns 85 on May 6.
Ichiro Suzuki gave a thumbs-up when asked about Bonds. Marlins manager Don Mattingly said: “He’s been good, he’s been Barry. Barry’s a big personality.”
Giancarlo Stanton is benefiting from his fellow slugger’s expertise.
“Any hitter, you can’t do it alone, so you’re going to need someone. Hopefully I can bring value to his struggles and hopefully I bring value to his success,” Bonds said of Stanton. “I use my dad a lot, I use Willie a lot. Some people get it, some people don’t. They’re young players, they’re all developing. I’m a young coach, and I’m developing. We’re all in this together.”
For Bonds, there were plenty of emotions coming home. Earlier Friday, he spoke at a remembrance for late Giants third baseman and former manager and front office member, Jim Davenport.
“It’s like a childhood dream. Like I said when I was a little boy, I wanted to be in the outfield with Willie Mays and my dad and be a Giant. I had that opportunity and I got to play left field, so I got to play against the ghosts of my idols my whole entire life,” Bonds said. “There’s no better story for me right now here in San Francisco, the city. I don’t really have fans in San Francisco, this is my family, this is where I was raised, this is where I grew up, these are the people that stood behind me through thick and thin. I always will appreciate that and always have my love for San Francisco.”