SAN DIEGO -- A fan threw a syringe at Barry Bonds during Monday's season opener. Barry, however, insisted it was OK because he was told it only contained flaxseed oil.
Ha! That's just a little BALCO humor. Barry actually looked disgusted when the syringe landed near him when he trotted off the field in the eighth inning, though he later said it didn't bother him. "If that's what they want to do and embarrass themselves, it's on them,'' Bonds said. "I still have to play baseball.''
What is alarming here is not that a fan threw a large, needle-less syringe at Bonds but that a fan in San Diego would do so. If that's the kind of reaction he gets in a city this laid back, imagine what awaits him in Oakland or New York (fortunately for him, Boston isn't on the schedule). Let's just say the reaction could make for an interesting episode of Barry's new reality show.
Off-camera interviewer: So what does it feel like to have three heaping barrels of raw sewage dumped on you from the upper deck while an entire section of fans chant "Barry Sucks! Barry Sucks!''?
Bonds: About the same way as I feel dealing with reporters.
Syringe aside, the San Diego reaction at Monday's opener was about what you would expect. They booed Barry when he was introduced and whenever he batted or caught a fly ball or chased down a single or was any way singled out on the field, but that's only natural. These Padres fans have suffered at Bonds' hands over the years. The Cream and the Clear might be potent performance enhancers but for Bonds, they don't begin to compare to batting against Padres pitchers.
The heckling will get louder and more intense at ballparks everywhere as the season goes on and Bonds draws closer to Hank Aaron's home run record. Not that it will make much difference to Barry, who insisted to reporters and his reality show cameramen that he doesn't notice the boos. I think this is a case where we actually can believe him -- Bonds barely notices anything up to (and possibly including) a grand jury subpoena. Besides, players who let the fans get to them usually don't last long in the majors. As Monday's San Francisco starter Jason Schmidt said, he learned to tune out the hecklers his first season in the minors.
What was telling, though, is how many San Diego fans waited around to make sure they saw Barry's final at-bat in the ninth inning despite the Padres holding a five-run lead. "Let's hang around -- Barry's coming up,'' one said as I walked around the concourse in the eighth inning. "I just want to see Barry hit,'' another said. And as soon as Barry grounded out, thousands got up and left the stadium.
That's the thing. As much outrage as we express about Bonds, we sure like watching the show. He's like those tabloids we can't help ourselves from picking up at the supermarket to see whether they really do have photos of Angelina Jolie sunbathing nude with Bigfoot, Elvis and Princess Di's secret clone.
I find how we react to this whole steroid business very revealing. Everyone always says they're against steroids and that they're horrible and that they're the ruin of our nation's youth. Unless, of course, the player happens to wear the home jersey. In that case we root him on no matter what he might or might not have done. After booing Bonds lustily for his at-bat in the top of the second inning, San Diego fans cheered loudly when Mike Piazza, no stranger to steroid rumors himself, homered in the bottom of the inning. One reader sent me an e-mail describing how when he wears his Bonds jersey in San Diego he gets grief from fans wearing Ken Caminiti jerseys.
Some would call that inconsistency. Others would call it hypocrisy. I just call it root, root, rooting for the home team.
So give it your best this season, fans. Heckle Barry mercilessly on the road, praise him without reservation at home. In the end, he won't notice either way.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.