Mark and Chris: The Quest for Barry Bonds' Ball

Photos by Chris Kostman, October 6, 2001, Pac Bell Park, San Francisco

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As you all know, Barry Bonds broke the home run record on Friday, October 5, 2001 at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco. It was during the first of three games againt the Dodgers that he pushed the record to 72 runs. Well, I'm no mainstream sports fan, but I did watch a bit of the game and the news coverage. What struck me, frankly, was all of the people in boats just outside the park in McCovey (sp?) Cove. This new ball park butts up against the Bay and some of the homers that go out of the park land in the water. Even before Barry Bonds' home run record performances, some locals had taken to hanging out in the Bay there, hoping to catch a ball. Needless to say, during the Friday night game, the cove was just packed with people on all types of boats, kayaks, canoes, rafts, flotation devices, and the like. It just looked so hysterical, a real cultural happening, that I just had to go check it out.

So, I rang up my buddy Mark Lobaco (a friend since 2nd grade and true sports fan) and we made our plans to go join McCovey's Marauders, as the news media is calling them, on Saturday. The plan was to get over there and find or get on a boat. We brought a twelve pack of Sierra Nevada as a bribe, if needed, and to keep Mark well hydrated. I dropped one bottle as I was loading all of them into my backpack and thus coined a new term, "drunkard's dozen." (Not that I was drunk, but it seemed like something a drunk person would do!)

It's really easy to get to this park; you just cross the bridge, take the first offramp, loop around, and park. Plus you can get there via BART and the Muni train, which is how Mark normally goes to the games. I, of course, had never been there. In fact, I've only been to one pro ball game in my life! (But I've flown to Hawaii just to watch the Ironman, so we all have our interests and priorities!)

We walked over to the park, passing by the immediately adjacent marina on the way, looking for any opportunities to rent a boat or jump on one. The stadium itself is truly amazing. It's really beautiful and interestingly designed. We got there as the national anthem was being sung; I was quite impressed by the building, the setting, the energy, and just kept saying to Mark "this is so awesome!" It really is, and next year I'm definitely going to some games.

Another neat thing about this stadium is that you can walk right up to it and, standing at field level, watch the game for free. There's a big sidewalk between the cove and the stadium itself, with a spot beneath this section of stands where you can watch the game. Very cool! (And so totally "Bay Area" to provide free access for the cheapies and homeless to enjoy something that is really, totally all about the big bucks.) So first we stood there and watched the game for a while. It was really cool, as we were standing practically on the field, right at the end of the first base line. I stood there telling Mark that pro ball players should play on a bigger diamond than high school kids. I mean, they make all those big bucks and have the best training facilities in the world; how come they can't run further and faster than a high school kid?

Then Mark noticed the shocking and disturbing fact that Bonds was not in the starting lineup! Hello! We came to see that guy play, and to take our lottery chances on catching a million dollar home run record ball! And now the guy's taking the day off when there's only today and the next day left in the season? Man, no wonder he's not very popular in the baseball world!

So, this really took away our desire to find our own boat, or bribe our way onto a boat. But we were there already, so we walked back out onto the sidewalk between the stadium and the cove and checked out all of the action. There was quite a flotilla! And frankly, it was hilarious. I mean, the water's about 55 degrees and there are people in basic wetsuits on boogie boards in there! Plus, there are people in rafting tubes, dressed up as Uncle Sam, or sporting a big bullseye on their clothes, plus most everyone had a fishing net on a long pole for either catching the ball or scooping it out of the water. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard was right behind everyone in a cutter for "homeland defense," I would presume, while the SF Sheriffs stood by in their own boat to make sure everyone had a life jacket (and probably hoping to catch the ball, too).

As we hung out there watching, a frenzy of games started happening. The people in the boats started throwing tennis balls, footballs, frisbees, and the like back and forth with people on the sidewalk and in the stands up above. It's hard to describe all of this, but it really was funnier than hell. Mark and I were laughing our asses off for quite a while and I took a bunch of pics and shot video. (I felt like a tourist with the camera gear, but hey, how often does one go to such a unique cultural phenomenon like this?) Anyway, I hope you all enjoy the pic's!

Of course, there were plenty of scalpers around and they were having a bad day. With Bonds not in the lineup and the Giants having lost the night before and thus not going into the championship series, there was definitely less interest in this game. So Mark scored us a pair of standing room only tickets for five bucks each (face value $10.50) and we headed into the stadium. But first we had to check my backpack in at the newly organized ad hoc "bag check area," another effort towards "homeland defense." Besides, they wouldn't have let me carry in all that beer, anyway.

So into the stadium we went. And WOW, it is amazing! The capitalism is pretty interesting, too, such as the big children's slide that flows through a giant Coca Cola bottle. It's really something to be in there with all that energy, in that really neat monument to America's pastime. Inside, we ate the lunches we'd brought and Mark bought a beer for only $6.50 (an outrageous pricing effort to counterbalance allowing people to watch the game for free, I guess). Mark pointed out that ever since September 11, "God Bless America" is now sung during the seventh inning stretch.

Then we wandered up onto the walkway that we had been below before. It was pretty cool to be able to pick a spot and stand a watch the game. One thing that struck me was that people would just start talking to Mark, as he was wearing an Oakland A's hat and apparently exudes some sports fan pheromone that other true sports fans can pick up on. I mean, immediately some guy starts talking to Mark about this and that; it was all gibberish to me. And then later some old Grandma and Mark had this intense, detail-filled conversation. I just hung out, though, and enjoyed the whole spectacle of it.

And, we were rewarded when Barry Bonds came to bat as a pinch hitter in the eight inning. He "only" made a single, but it was awesome to hear the crowd roar when he came out on deck, and then took a swing. I had the videocam rolling at this point, hoping to catch history in the making; heck, maybe the ball would have came straight to me and I could have video'd it with my right hand and caught it with my left! Think how much more valuable the ball would have been with video showing it coming straight to my hand!

But alas, it didn't happen, and our Quest for Barry Bonds' Ball was over. What a fun day, though, and I appreciate Mark enlightening me with answers to all my rookie questions!

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