Barry Bonds said he felt “kind of lost” walking into the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park on Friday. Otherwise, he expected a normal weekend at the stadium he once called home.
“I don’t really feel weird,” Bonds, in his first year as Miami’s hitting coach, said before the Marlins and Giants began a three-game series Friday. “I respect the Giants, and I’ll root for them when we leave. But I’m not going to root for them right now. I don’t want them to beat us, like, when I’m here. I take my job really seriously.”
Bonds, 51, said he’s enjoying his role working with the Marlins’ hitters. He also cited his new affiliation as his reason for declining an offer from Giants president and CEO Larry Baer to put him on the Wall of Fame at AT&T Park this weekend.
“We sat down and talked about it,” Bonds said. “I felt that it wasn’t really the right time. It’d be kind of weird. My boss is (Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria) now, and I want to respect him; I want to respect the Marlins.
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“We’re here to play the Giants and put on a good performance. I think it’s just 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.”
Bonds wore a Giants uniform for the final 15 seasons of his career, in which he hit 762 home runs, the most all-time, and won seven National League MVP awards but left the game under suspicions of performance-enhancing drug use. He said he expected a warm reception from Giants fans, which he received when he walked to the plate to exchange lineup cards with Giants bench coach Ron Wotus before the first pitch.
The applause became louder as more fans recognized Bonds, with some rising to their feet. Bonds hugged Wotus, then took off his hat to the crowd and waved. A few chants of “Bar-ry!” broke out.
“This is where I played; this is my home,” Bonds said before the game, echoing a theme he would repeat several times during a 10-minute session with reporters. “I would hope that this city has great memories.”
In recent years, Bonds was cheered when he turned up at AT&T Park as a spectator, and he spent a week during spring training in 2014 as a hitting instructor in the Giants’ camp. The Giants, though, have a hitting coach in Hensley Meulens, who been part of their coaching staff for three World Series titles. The Marlins overhauled their coaching staff last winter and made Bonds their hitting coach under first-year manager Don Mattingly.
Mattingly said Bonds has adjusted well to his new role, seems open to putting in the necessary hours and brings “instant credibility” to his conversations with Marlins hitters.
“I thought he did a really nice job in spring training of not being overbearing, allowing guys to work and building relationships before you start trying to come in and tell guys what they’re doing,” Mattingly said.
“I think it’s probably an adjustment for Barry – just guys can’t do what he could do. You have to take their swing and work it in, and I think he’s done a nice job of that.”
Bonds said his first foray into coaching is “a learning process for us all.” But he sounded invested in working with a Marlins lineup that includes young stars like Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton.
“We’re all different people – everyone has their own ability,” Bonds said. “You just try to improve their ability. I can’t expect them to see the things that I see. Some may, some may not. But the best thing is to take whatever they have and try to improve that.”
Bonds said controlling his emotions and realizing he can’t affect games on the field has been the biggest difference in his move to coaching. Still, he said he wants the Marlins’ players to feel he is there for them.
“I know the struggles of the game, I know the successes of the game, and I’m in it with you,” Bonds said. “That’s the thing is just to let them know that I’m there with you.”
Of course, Bonds can’t pick up a bat during games to help a Marlins offense that entered Friday having scored the third-fewest runs in the National League. Giants fans got their look at him before the first pitch, then Bonds returned to the Marlins’ side, another gray jersey along the railing in the visitors’ dugout.