ABOARD THE EL PATO IN McCOVEY COVE (AP) -The balls plunked into the water like chum dropping in a shark tank, touching off brief but violent splashing frenzies of arms and kayak paddles and yells.
Then a victor would emerge, holding the ball aloft to cheers.
So it went Monday afternoon into evening in McCovey Cove, where 350 kayakers formed a giant flotilla, constantly changing shape and size like an oscillating amoeba as sluggers.
It's also where Jay Austin pulled off the seemingly impossible: He snagged a Barry Bonds home run.
True, it was a batting practice home run. Bonds didn't participate in the Home Run Derby; then again, no one homered into the water during the derby.
True, too, it had cost him his cigarettes, Elvis Presley cape and mask - to dive in the water to win the ball from dozens of other competitors splashing around him.
But it was all worth it for Austin, a cove regular who usually sports a Batman costume. He said a fellow kayaker he owed $900 offered to forgive the debt in exchange for the ball.
``No deal,'' Austin said, empty beer cans littering the bottom of his kayak. ``It was the ball that everyone wanted to get and I got it.''
He then donned a Viking helmet, turned the horns down and kayaked back into the scrum.
Austin, along with many of the kayakers, had taken to the waters - and drink - hours before the Home Run Derby started.
The regulars sported flags stating they were part of ``Bonds Navy'' and were led by Tom Hoynes, dubbed the mayor of McCovey Cove.
The 58-year-old Hoynes holds the unofficial record of snaring nine splash hits, including eight from Bonds. He said the Bonds balls fetch anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 each, though he doesn't think the Home Run Derby balls will be worth much.
``He knows everything about the cove,'' said another longtime regular Dave Edlund. ``He's been out here for seven years and through two wives.''
There have been a total of 58 regular-season shots to land in McCovey Cove and the San Francisco Giants have hit 44 of them, including Bonds' 34.
Edlund has racked up two Bonds splash hits and felt he had an advantage over most of the first timers in the cove because of his prowess with a kayak.
There were more than just kayakers afloat on McCovey Cove. One foursome floated on a makeshift putting green while others converted wading pools into floating vessels.
The scene was reminiscent of the chaotic dock scene in the movie ``Jaws'' when all sorts of would-be shark hunters turned out in all manner of water craft.
Several reporters joined the aquatic chaos in McCovey Cove (Hey, there's ESPN reporter Kenny Mayne in a kayak with a camera attached to his helmet!) by boarding a yellow ``Duck boat,'' a vintage World War II transport boat that also drives on land. The boat was dubbed El Pato, Spanish for ``duck.''
The Duck boat drove into the San Francisco Bay at Pier 48, a mile or so from the cove and was escorted by two police boats after the San Francisco Police Department bomb squad swept the craft for explosives and drugs.
Security was tight entering the cove as well.
A U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat with a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on its bow guarded the mouth of the cove and several police patrolled the chaos on jet skis. Still, few were deterred from drinking.
And as the beer disappeared with the sun, tip overs for no apparent reason became common place and boredom settled in as few splash hits reached the cove through the second of three rounds. And the prospects weren't good that very many more would fall, with only right-handed sluggers left.
Left-handed hitters have an easier time reaching the water, and the cove traffic thinned noticeably for the last rounds.
Even the mayor was left empty-handed after two rounds.
``They aren't game balls,'' Hoynes said before the competition began. ``They're not worth that much, if anything.''

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