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 SAN DIEGO (AP) -That wasn't so awkward after all.
Barry Bonds gave the crowd at Petco Park a chance to be a part of history. They weren't going to waste it by ruining a moment none will likely forget.
The cheers outweighed the boos. Those standing and clapping as he rounded third and headed for home outnumbered those holding signs with asterisks on them.
Bonds wants desperately to break Henry Aaron's record at home. But tying it on the road wasn't so bad, either.
Bud Selig stood watching, hands in his pockets and a dour look on his face, as Bonds broke a weeklong drought to tie one of the greatest records in sports.
He didn't look too happy to be in Petco Park in the first place, even more unhappy that it was Bonds who tied the mark of 755 home runs set by his longtime friend.
Aaron was spared the misery. He decided long ago that Bonds could have his record, but would never have his blessing.
The 42,497 who packed the downtown home of the Padres weren't so judgmental. Sure, they booed Bonds at every opportunity, but when the line drive rocketed off his bat on a 2-1 pitch leading off the second inning and slammed against an advertising facade in left field, a lot of them were more than happy to celebrate - albeit briefly - with the suspect slugger.
Who could really blame them? They weren't sure if Bonds was ever juiced, but they knew their pitcher certainly once was.
Clay Hensley tested positive for steroids two years ago while in the minor leagues, drawing a 15-game suspension and little notice at the time. That will change now that his name is linked forever with Bonds - or at least until some other unfortunate pitcher serves up No. 756.
The odds are that will happen sometime next week in San Francisco, where the Giants return home for four games against the Washington Nationals and three with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Adoring fans will cheer wildly every time he steps from the dugout, just as they booed him unmercifully every time they saw the No. 25 this week at Dodger Stadium.
Bonds long ago came to grips with the fact he would never be loved outside his own park, and even seemed to revel in the hatred spewed his way on this trip. But the fact he has only himself to blame for his image problems seems to be lost on him, as does the fact that he could hit 1,000 home runs and half the fans in baseball would refuse to acknowledge him as the home run king.
Baseball was always apprehensive about Bonds tying or breaking Aaron's mark on the road, fearful that 20 years from now the video replays would show fans throwing giant syringes on the field as he went around the bases or turning around en masse to protest a mark that might have been chemically altered.
Instead, you'll see a lot of fans standing and cheering and a tender moment at home plate when Bonds picked up his 17-year-old son, Nikolai, and carried him for about 10 feet in a celebration mixed with equal measures of relief and jubilation. But we've seen tender moments before, and the sight of Mark McGwire going into the stands to hug members of the Maris family or hoisting his own son in the air somehow don't seem so special anymore.
Bonds was at his surly best earlier this week when asked what the fan reaction would be if he tied or broke the record on the road.
``I don't know,'' he said. ``Why don't you ask them?''
If you asked the fans at Petco on this night, it would be one of delight at just being there with a sprinkling of disgust for the person they were forced to celebrate.
In the stands down the left field line, a father told his son that he had just witnessed history. Neither were clapping, though, and when Bonds came up to bat again in the fourth inning the boy joined with many in the crowd as they booed him.
No one, in fact, was really sure what was proper decorum for this moment. Do you celebrate a record, or do you denigrate a man who grew suspiciously large and started hitting home runs in suspicious ways at a time when most men can barely see the ball, much less hit it.
They won't be the last ones to be conflicted because the debate about Bonds will go on for years. He may escape the fate of McGwire, who is now a baseball pariah, but he won't ever escape being part of the steroid mess.
He may never get in the Hall of Fame, despite his prodigious records. There's a chance he could even end up in prison.
He may one day be glorified, but there's a better chance he'll be vilified.
About the only sure thing right now is that he'll pass Aaron - and soon.
----
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org
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