My son couldn't have been happier. It was a sunny Sunday and we were on the bus, headed to the baseball game at Your Call Is Very Important to Us Park.
He doesn't care much about baseball, but he's the bus-lovinest 4-year-old in the Pacific Time Zone, he's never met an insanely overpriced snack he didn't like, and he knows he can wheedle me into buying at least two of those in a regulation game.
On the seat next to me was a copy of the S.F. Weekly, open to a page with a caricature of Barry Bonds illustrating an article about that human psychology dissertation in rompers, specifically the racial angle. I picked it up and began reading.
"Who's that?" Buster asked.
Well, that's a complicated question.
"He's the Giants' big home run hitter," I said. "He's their big star, kind of like their Albert Pujols." Buster spent his whole life up to a month ago in St. Louis, and he and his pals, regardless of their interest or lack of interest in baseball or the Cardinals, love Albert Pujols.
Seriously. Love. They'll hear his name, turn to each other and say, in this reverent, amazed tone, "I love Albert Pujols!" "Me too." It's like a little revival meeting. It's an uncomplicated sort of thing -- so far, I'm compelled by recent history to say -- to live in St. Louis and love Albert Pujols.
"He's hit more home runs than anybody else ever has," I continued. I felt a little funny about it. I looked around at the other passengers on the bus, wondering if anybody was giving me the old gimlet eye. As if any of them knew who I was and were sitting there thinking, "So that's it, Mr. 75,000 words about Barry Bonds since the grand jury testimony leaked? He's a big home run hitter? Period?"
Four-year-olds have a hard enough time with simple answers. I figured I didn't need to get into the complicated mess of a real answer to the question "Who is Barry Bonds?"
It took a little effort for me to relax about it. We're just going to a baseball game, I reminded myself. It's just a sunny day, a little father-son outing. Buster will get to see his pal Oliver -- a San Francisco native who loves Barry Bonds, natch. We'll eat nasty cotton candy, argue about going to the bathroom -- just try! -- stand in a huge line to slide down the slide in the giant soda bottle.
It was not only Buster's first baseball game in San Francisco, it was also the first time I'd bought a ticket and watched Bonds from the stands since the steroid revelations broke after the 2003 season. I had wondered whether I'd join in the cheering, whether I'd feel funny about it if I did, whether my enjoyment of a day at the ballpark would be affected by the whole psychodrama and semiotics of Barry Bonds, my team's guy and blight on the national pastime.
Nope. I sat with my boy and our friends and, in one of the few moments during which I was able to look at the game -- did I mention Buster is 4? -- Bonds lined a single in his first at-bat, a rare bright spot in a desultory but delightfully sunny 5-0 loss by the locals to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
As a typist, a media guy, I churn and worry over Barry Bonds, what he means, the true value of his accomplishments, his place in history, the damage he's done to the game, whether he's a scapegoat. I care a lot about that part of Barry Bonds that's not just a baseball player hitting home runs.
As a fan, I just want to see a baseball game, and that's what I did, brow unfurrowed by concern, except about the bathroom thing. I wouldn't have minded a bit if Bonds had hit a home run, even if it had just turned 5-0 into 5-1.
I think this division in my head is pretty similar to one in the rest of the world. We media types care a lot about the scourge of drugs and other serious issues causing all sorts of moral dilemmas and deep thinking. We wrestle with corruption in college sports and public financing of stadiums. We debate race and ethics and commercialization.
We fans just want to watch a ballgame.
Here's an issue we fans can sink our teeth into: $5.50 for a little bag of nasty cotton candy. Now that's a blight on the national pastime.
Previous column: Crime, punishment and Jose Offerman
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -