Commentary

When Lewis enters, Bonds exits

Originally Published: August 1, 2007
By Eric Neel | ESPN.com

Fred Lewis brings the curtain down. He's the killjoy. When he shows up, the show is over.

On Tuesday night the San Francisco Giants' reserve outfielder entered the game as a pinch runner for Barry Bonds in the seventh inning, after Bonds got on base on a Rafael Furcal error. On Wednesday night Lewis came on in the eighth, after Bonds was intentionally walked by Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton. And on Thursday he appeared in the seventh inning after the big guy drew another intentional walk, this one from Scott Proctor.

Each time he got an appreciative little fist bump or butt slap from the man who would be king, and each time you could feel Dodger Stadium deflate like a popped Bazooka bubble at the very sight of him. A smattering of boos, a sell-out worth of sighs -- just what you hope for as a 27-year-old kid with 55 games of big-league experience. Just what you hope for when the spotlight is finally, briefly, on you.

It ain't easy singing backup for The Man. Nobody bought a ticket to see you. Nobody knows your name or cares to. You're just some mug standing between the assembled crowd and a glimpse of baseball history.

"They want to see him play," Lewis says. "I understand that."

How does he deal with it? Does the moment, no doubt a radical departure from his boyhood dreams of hitting the big time, disappoint him?

"Nah, I'm used to it," he says. "I just go out there and be myself and try to do things to the best of my ability."

The flashing cameras are put away and the crowd is sitting down, but their lack of interest not withstanding, it's still a big moment for young Mr. Lewis.

"I don't get that many chances to play," he wants you to know. "It's an exciting moment for me, no matter what."

In his mind there is a kind of reflected glory in the gig, too. Some night soon the box score may say Fred Lewis pinch ran in the seventh or eighth inning for the new all-time home run champion. From where he sits (on the bench waiting for the call from Giants manager Bruce Bochey), that's pretty cool.

"It's a great feeling, really," he says. "I get to come in and be a part of history. It's exciting for me. And everything I can contribute, even in a small way, just gives me a feeling of strength."

Kevin Frandsen, a 25-year-old second-year player who's been drawing the "No, I'm not Barry" gig in left field recently, feels the same way. He was in left at Wrigley Field a couple weeks back and the Bleacher Bums let him have it, but he didn't care. "They were chanting, 'Baaaaary's Back-Up! Baaaaary's Back-Up!," he says. "It was pretty funny, because I just kept thinking, 'That's right. I'm backing up a Hall of Famer.' Not a bad gig, when you think about it."

Much of the baseball world looks upon Bonds' pursuit of Henry Aaron's career home run record with a jaundiced eye, wishing the thing would end quickly and quietly. Frandsen is enjoying every minute of it.

"I think about those guys who got be on Cal Ripken's team when he broke the consecutive games streak," he says. "You knew as it was happening that you were watching something that wasn't going to happen again, maybe ever. I'm savoring this. I cherish every time I'm out there."

They say no man is hero to his valet, but Lewis and Frandsen don't see Bonds as the polarizing face of the steroid era. They just see a player who's been ridiculously good at what he does, at what they hope to do, for a very long time.

"I grew up watching him, loving him and the Giants," Frandsen says. "I'm standing on his patch of grass out there some nights and it's just wild. It's surreal. I think it's an honor."

Eric Neel writes for Page 2 on ESPN.com.

Eric Neel | email

Page 2 columnist
Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.

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