Everyone was buzzing about Barry Bonds.
National League manager Tony La Russa had just posted his lineup for Tuesday night's All-Star game and Bonds, baseball's prodigy and pariah, was batting second, rather than his customary cleanup spot.
``I'm hitting fourth?'' Ken Griffey Jr. said incredulously. ``Just tell him to get the guys over for me.''
Loved and loathed, admired and assailed, Bonds was the center of attention Monday as baseball's midsummer celebration returned to San Francisco for the first time in 23 years.
For once Bonds could bask in the sunlight that filled the Giants' ballpark by the bay and the attention of adoring hometown fans, the dual burden of steroid suspicions and his home-run chase lifted for a few days.
``My thing is that I feel disappointed in some of those fans that were influenced by a third-party judgment and have not given me that opportunity just to know me,'' he said. ``People in San Francisco know me.''
In a silver est and fashionable tie, Bonds sat behind a corner table in the grand ballroom of the Westin St. Francis hotel by Union Square, surrounded by media a dozen deep as he spoke for an hour before the Home Run Derby. At the other end of the ornate room, Griffey craned his neck around Dodgers reliever Takashi Saito to get a look.
Bonds, a 14-time All-Star, decided not to take part in Monday night's derby, disappointing fans in the ballpark and ratings-hungry baseball executives. He's done it six times before and didn't want to exert himself at age 42.
``I love Barry,'' the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez said. ``I wish he was there because I'm watching it and I want to see great players hit. It would have been awesome to watch him hit some into McCovey Cove.''
Bonds skipped his turn between Carlos Beltran and Griffey when the NL stars took batting practice. When he stepped into the cage a bit later, fans cheered and chanted ``Barry! Barry!'' as he hit mostly liners and grounders. He did send a few drives out toward the right- and center-field seats. He hit seven homers in all, and fans in kayaks and rafts awaited his single splash shot, one diving into the chilly water to fish out a ball.
Bonds hasn't started a regular-season game in the No. 2 hole since June 6, 1987, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, although he batted second in the 1993 All-Star game at Baltimore. Players speculated he was pushed up that high in order to get him extra at-bats.
David Wright of the Mets, hitting fifth in the NL order, wanted to savor the moment.
``It's going to be a great story to tell my kids, my grandchildren that I got a chance to not only suit up with Barry but provide some protection for Ken Griffey Jr., as well,'' he said. ``It's just an incredible honor. It's something I'll always remember.''
T sparkled, its flags flapping in the breeze.
When the All-Stars last came to San Francisco, the Giants played south of downtown in Candlestick Park, known for its chill and stiff wind. There were 21 strikeouts in the 1984 game, highlighted by Gary Carter's home run off Dave Stieb in a 3-1 NL win. The game took just 2 hours, 29 minutes - so fast that it still was daylight when the postgame fireworks went off.
Then there was the 1961 affair at Candlestick, when Stu Miller was blown off the mound for a balk.
The new ballpark, originally known at Pacific Bell Park and then SBC Park, was built partly from the Silicon Valley wealth created in the dot.com boom. It's south of Market Street and protected somewhat from the wind, but players say it can be treacherous.
``The wind just blows,'' the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols said. ``It's probably the toughest park in the National League for a right-handed hitter.''
Oakland's Dan Haren (10-3) and San Diego's Jake Peavy (9-3) were picked as the starting pitchers. The American League carried a nine-game winning streak in All-Star games played to a decision, with 2002's notorious 7-7, 11-inning tie at Milwaukee in the middle.
Homefield advantage for the World Series is at stake for the fifth consecutive season. A-Rod joked that he used to be back home by the time the final out was made and now he sticks around for the late innings.
By then, Bonds will have received several standing ovations. Among the stars, he's revered, not reviled.
``Just ask the guys in this room or the NL room and you'll find a lot of fans of Barry Bonds,'' Boston's Josh Beckett said, ``because we know what he's done and how hard it is to do it.''
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