SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Not since Dorothy and Toto has anyone been so eager to get home as Barry Bonds.
And rightfully so.
--
Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me - Paul Simon
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Not that San Francisco is silent. The fans here are rowdy and raucous and unabashedly rooting for Bonds as he closes in on Hank Aaron's all-time home run mark. While the rest of the country mocks and jeers him, San Francisco is his safe haven, the one place he can truly feel at home.
``We're really the only ones who love him unconditionally,'' Giants fan Matthew Mertens said.
Like it or not, Bonds is going to be the new home run king. He's already at 753 homers, just two shy of the Hammer. Whether it's days or weeks from now, he will eventually match, and then pass, Aaron.
When he does, I hope he does it at the Giants' waterfront stadium. For his sake. For the sake of the fans who've stood by him.
For the sake of baseball, really.
``I would hate for it to be an issue where we'd look back in history and have it be a negative experience with the fans and him,'' fan Kevin Grassman said.
That's exactly what will happen if Bonds, who turned 43 on Tuesday, catches Aaron in any city other than San Francisco. The grandest record in baseball - in all of sports - will be ``celebrated'' with boos and catcalls.
Bonds has yet to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and he's denied knowingly using them. Still, enough has been written, said and alleged that most of the country considers him a cheat. He becomes a pariah the minute he sets foot outside the Bay Area.
When the Giants were in Milwaukee during the weekend, he was razzed when the starting lineups were introduced, taunted in left field and jeered whenever he stepped to the plate.
The only time he was cheered was when he trudged back to the dugout.
Granted, Milwaukee is the city where Aaron began and ended his career. But don't think the reaction won't be as ugly anywhere else. Someone tossed a syringe at him in San Diego last year.
Here in San Francisco, though, it's as if all that ugliness doesn't exist. The majority of fans in jerseys are wearing his. He got a standing ovation every time he came to the plate Monday night, and the fans stayed on their feet throughout the entire at-bat.
Even Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana got in on the love fest, saluting Bonds in a message played on the scoreboard before the game.
``Congratulations on a great career and good luck on the road to history,'' Montana said. ``And remember don't just break that record, give 'em a number that no one will reach.''
Oh, Giants fans know Bonds carries enough baggage for an around-the-world trip. Some even admit they think he used steroids.
But they don't care.
``The guy's going to be the all-time home run leader, and he's in your town. It starts with that,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ``But he loves this city, and I think the fans know it.''
There's history to this bond. His father, Bobby, was a Giants star in the late 1960s and his godfather is Willie Mays.
More than that, though, it's what Barry Bonds done for the city and the team.
The Giants were toiling in mediocrity in the early 1990s. There was that World Series appearance in 1989, but mostly it was a string of third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishes. Bonds arrived in 1993, and the Giants promptly won 103 games.
He's led San Francisco to the playoffs four times, and took the Giants to the World Series in 2002. He's won five of his seven MVPs as a Giant, and he set the single-season record with 73 home runs in 2001.
Even when the Giants are losing, Bonds makes them relevant. Ballhawkers come early to stake out the best spots for home run balls. McCovey Cove is filled with kayakers hoping for splash hits.
The crowd of 42,679 on Monday night was the 22nd sellout this season - for a last-place team that hasn't been above .500 since the end of May.
``He is the Giants,'' fan David Gallagher said. ``That's why the record should be broken here. You can say anything you want about his personality, but I wouldn't trade the 2001 season, going to all those games, seeing all the highlights.''
Get ready, David, you're about to see some more.
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Nancy Armour is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at narmourap.org.

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