T Park on Sunday as baseball began to gather for its three-day All-Star celebration. Barry Bonds' absence made the scene that much brighter.
A few hours before the World team beat the United States 7-2 in the All-Star Futures game, San Francisco Giants owner Peter Magowan sat in the stands and talked about the franchise's remarkable turnaround from its near-move to Florida 15 years ago. On a cloudless day, boats sailed outside the beautiful ballpark-by-the-bay where the All-Star game will be played Tuesday night.
But everything with the Giants, perhaps even with baseball, revolves around Bonds these days, his chase for Hank Aaron's career home run record and the swirl of suspicions that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
``So much of what is written about him is negative, and because he's our star player, there is a carry-over effect on the image of the organization,'' Magowan said. ``We're described as all kinds of things by some people - enablers; we've got blinders on our heads; we should have seen all this coming. People even questioned our integrity or my integrity bringing him back this year - probably the smartest thing we did do in the offseason, as things have turned out.''
Bonds entered the break with 751 homers, four short of Hammerin' Hank's mark. Commissioner Bud Selig won't say whether he'll attend Bonds' games when he approaches the record. A grand jury weighs evidence whether Bonds perjured himself in grand jury testimony four years ago, when he said he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.
In 29 ballparks, Bonds is a pariah. In San Francisco, he is the hero. That's why Magowan was disappointed Bonds turned down the chance to appear in Monday night's Home Run Derby. Bonds cited his age (nearly 43) and the potential of disruption to his swing.
``I just thought it was such a wonderful opportunity for Barry to be in the one ballpark where everybody would cheer everything he did during the home run-hitting contest,'' Magowan said. ``If he hit three popups to the second baseman, they would have cheered, and yelled and supported him and it would have been a way of him to reflect in that and to give the community what they wanted to see.''
Magowan understands why Bonds said no. He also comprehends the many negative stories about someone even he describes as a ``prickly individual'' but prefers to talk about the lesser-known side of Bonds, how the player went to a hospital and washed the feet of Harmon Burns, a Giants partner who died last year.
``The media would love to write that everybody hates him, nobody wants to be with him. People come on to this team, sometimes they tell us one of the reasons is they wanted to play with Barry Bonds,'' Magowan said, citing Shawon Dunston and Marquis Grissom as examples.
The smell of garlic fries filled the air, and flags fluttered in the wind out in right-center, near McCovey Cove, where hours later fans would peer through the ``knothole'' area to watch for free - an idea Magowan got from a Norman Rockwell painting. Pretty much everything was done right in the ballpark, which opened in 2000.
Larry Baer, the team's executive vice president, said the Giants have sold about 96 percent of available tickets since the stadium opened.
``We've defeated the notion that there's a honeymoon period for a new ballpark,'' he said.
The Giants sell about 28,000 season tickets. There is a new section right behind home plate near the field that is sold only for individual games at $5,000 to $10,000 for a block of 20 seats, the price changing with the opponent.
``We didn't want the same people behind the TV camera all the time,'' Magowan said. ``And the walk-in will pay a higher price than what we felt we could have sold the seats for on an 81-game deal. So frankly, we just make more money.''
Hosting the All-Star game came at an opportune time. The longest of the original charter seat licenses ran for seven years, and access to All-Star tickets was an incentive for fans to renew. In this market, the Giants compete for leisure dollars with trips to Lake Tahoe, Monterey and wine country.
And, perhaps a few years from now, they'll have to compete with a new Oakland Athletics ballpark in Fremont.
``I think it will probably hurt us a little bit,'' Magowan said. ``The A's will have a much better facility, much more compelling reasons to buy season tickets. We'll have to compete with them for sponsorships. But I'm not worried about the A's. I've got my own thing to do.''
Magowan remembers back to 1954, when the Giants won their last World Series and played at the Polo Grounds in New York. They moved to California after the 1957 season along with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but for much of the 1970s and 1980s, the franchise was imperiled, with voters turning down four ballpark referendums.
Magowan's group paid $100 million for the franchise and another $110 million to fund operating losses while at Candlestick Park. Though there hasn't been a partnership distribution, the investors have made money. And the mortgage for the $357 million ballpark will be paid for in 2017.
``We bought the team for $100 million. It's probably worth $500 million today,'' Magowan said. ``It may be worth more. We're not interested in selling it, so I don't know what it's worth.''

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