No one foresaw such success for Bonds

Barry Bonds slept here. Not only that, he made his professional baseball debut here. He played a dynamic center field, stole a few bases and even hit some home runs for the 1985 Prince William Pirates, but no scout worth the price of his radar gun wouldve guessed that he had 70-plus homer potential.

“He wasnt big enough to be the kind of guy where you knew hed be a big power hitter,” says Allan Simpson, the editor and founder of Baseball America magazine. “In fact, he almost got lost in the shuffle in the 85 draft. Most people will tell you that was the best draft ever — Barry Larkin, Randy Johnson, Will Clark, B.J. Surhoff, Pete Incaviglia.

“I think people thought Bonds would get to the big leagues pretty fast and he did. But the year before Bonds draft year at Arizona State, Oddibe McDowell got all of the attention. Up until his junior year, Bonds wasnt even the best player on his own team.”

The sixth overall pick in the 1985 draft, Bonds reported to the Class A Carolina League. In 71 games covering 254 at-bats, he hit .299 with 13 home runs, 37 runs batted in and 15 stolen bases. He drew 37 walks, but struck out 52 times.

One year later, he played 44 games at Triple-A Hawaii and then reached the major leagues to stay. Sixteen years after he was here, Bonds has passed Mark McGwires home run record and Babe Ruths walks record in the same season. His slugging percentage for the year could be the best ever.

Say what you will about Bonds special treatment in the San Francisco Giants clubhouse. Or his postseason failures with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1990s. Or even his occasional lack of hustle in left field.

But this is a player with eight Gold Gloves and three Most Valuable Player awards. He — not Ken Griffey, Jr. — has been the best player of his era. If Bonds doesnt get a fourth MVP this year, too many voters have overthought their selections. Sammy Sosas becoming the complete player Don Baylor hoped hed be and Luis Gonzalez has put his name on the suddenly long list of 50-homer achievers, but Bonds may be having the best offensive season in the history of the game.

Before he zipped past the total of 560 major league home runs — closing within 100 of his godfather, Willie Mays — Bonds hit 20 bombs in the minors. The first two of those came June 29, 1985 at Prince William County Stadium in a 7-1 victory over the Kinston Blue Jays. The headline on Dave Utniks Carolina League notes the next Wednesday: “Bonds gets hot after slow start.” The headline in this newspaper this past Thursday: “Bonds hits 70th, ties Macs mark.” The transformation from lanky minor leaguer to 40-homer, 40-steal big leaguer to home run king is complete.

“Ed Ott [the manager of the 1985 Prince William club] compared Barry to Al Oliver, not Willie Stargell,” remembers Utnik, who covered that team and is the Potomac News current beat writer for the Potomac Cannons. “No one envisioned him becoming this big power hitter.”

Oliver hit .303 in an 18-year major league career, while Stargell hit 475 homers in 21 seasons. The most apt comparison for Barry might be a player with Olivers ability to hit for average, Stargells power and Bobby Bonds speed. He has been a left-field version of Mays.

Growing up as the son of a major leaguer, Bonds always has had to face expectations and attention — even if he wasnt the biggest man on campus at Arizona State. As a Prince William Pirate, he made a Baseball America cover with Durhams Mike Yazstremski (only one of them made it big). His relationship with reporters has been stormy at best, but long-time Pirates beat writer John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times says he gets along just fine with Bonds.

Perrotto, who appeared in ESPNs Sports Century documentary on Bonds, has another story he didnt get to tell during the program. In Perrottos second year on the beat in 1989, he showed up for spring training in a frazzled state. Perrotto had missed his connecting flight and the airline lost his bags. His rental car hadnt been reserved and he had to write a same-day story for his paper.

By the time the writer reached the ballpark, Pittsburghs game was about to start and Bonds, who said he wasnt talking to the media that spring because of a contract squabble, was about the only guy left in the clubhouse.

Perrotto merely said hello to Bonds, who responded by saying, “I ain’t talking to the media, dude.” Perrotto was just brave and just angry enough to say, “Did I ask you for an interview?” Bonds said “No.” Perrotto fired back “Well, then I guess it doesn’t really —- matter if you’re talking to the media or not, does it, Barry?”

“I don’t know if I earned his respect by firing back at him or if he just thought I was a psycho,” Perrotto says. “All I know if he was almost always cooperative from that day on.”

So if you had the time in 2001 to look past Bonds outer layer, you got a chance to enjoy a terrific baseball player chase baseballs most hallowed single-season record. And anyone who was lucky enough to see the Bonds of 1985 play in Prince William County should feel a little bit privileged, even if hes not quite the same player anymore.

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