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Love Him or Hate Him, He's Barry!

The New York Mets are poised to play the final leg of a three-game home stand against the San Francisco Giants and...the San Francisco Giants AND??? Barry Bonds.

I'm proud to say that I will have attended all three, yes, all three games at Shea; Tuesday's, Wednesday's, and tonight's games. I say with even more pride that I have been going for the sole purpose of seeing Barry Bonds hit a home run in his quest to break the all-time record of 755, and to watch the viscious New York fans work him over with such creative chants as "You're on steriods," "You're a cheater," and various juvenile comments about what he should go and do to his mother. Its been educational. Not only about the speed with which sports fans abandon all civility and good taste, but about the Spanish language, too. The group of Hispanic guys sitting next to me heckled Bonds in English and Spanish. I learned a few new phrases, though I don't think I'll be using them any time soon, unless I want to get my ass kicked.

Of course, I also learned some Spanish from the charmingly innocent "Jose Reyes' Spanish School" segments that the Met's play on their Jumbo-Tron screen. These are quite funny, good-natured, video-taped bits in which Mets' shortstop Reyes sits behind a fake teachers desk and teaches the crowd about a Spanish word and how to use it in a phrase. Then, the screen cuts to clips of white-bred--or at least non Spanophile--fans who try and repeat the phrase, and inevitably make mincemeat out of it. Reyes shakes his head or grimaces, until someone gets it right, then says, "Speaka Spani ees easy wit my Espanis School." Its funny, and in no way insulting to either Reyes and the fans who can't speak Spanish. At least we can all laugh at ourselves a bit.

But wow, I digress. Back to Barry...

I'm still not sure where I stand on the whole steriod thing, but I am sure where I stand on home runs. I love to see them, and I would love nothing more than to see Bonds break the most glorious record in all of sport. I say, let the courts decide, let Major League Baseball decide what to do with him afterward, and how to treat the record. I just want home runs, and I want drama. Barry Bonds delivers both.

In an age when individuality and eccentricity are dulled by mass culture, and generally viewed with suspicion, Bonds goes against the grain. Who says everybody has to be an "Aw-shucks," "Eh Atta Boy," "Hail Fellow Well-Met"-type? Nobody. Bonds is who he is. He's flawed like the rest of us. He doesn't try to be liked by anybody, he doesn't care anymore what people think of him. Isn't that vastly more fascinating than a contrite do-gooder with a cheesey smile and a ready apology for any percieved screw-up?

Even before the whole steriod thing came to light, Bonds had a sour relationship with the media. I've always loved to read his interviews, just for the entertainment value. You get gems such as (loosely); "I'm not talking about home runs anymore...I'm not talking about anything anymore...Don't ask me any more questions. Ever." OR "My job is to play baseball. I don't even think about home runs...hell, I don't even know how many home runs I have. How many do I have now? And what's the record at? I guess I'm pretty close then right? Well, so what, I don't care."

To watch Bonds play is to watch a living legend. He embodies the drama, the iconoclastic fame that makes professional sports great. When he stepped onto the field to pinch hit on Tuesday night, in the tenth inning, Shea stadium broke out in a chorus of boos that made my blood curdle. For a few brief moments I tried to yell out "Shut up you bastards" at them, but you try and make your voice heard--your contradictory voice---amongst 40,000 rabid fans and you will know the meaning of the word futility. It was hopeless. My stomach turned and turned as Bonds stood there in front of the dugout warming up to bat, like Darth Vader swinging his light sabre. He already had the black helmet and the bionic arm, all he needed was the black cape. He was monstrous, a He-Man among mortals, wielding his maul with bone-crunching strength and control. That particular at-bat ended in a walk, not intentional. But it was worth the $9 and the hour long trip to Queens.

Say what you want; He did steriods, he didn't do steriods, he's a cheater, he's straight-up, he's an asshole...whatever. He is great. He is greatness. Like it or not, agree with it or not, that trip to the stadium to heckle or admire him is the closest many of us will ever get to that kind of greatness in our lives.

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