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Bonds, fans enjoy controversy-free San Francisco celebration

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds basked in hometown adulation
Friday during a celebration where he received the key to the city
and heard not a mention of the steroid controversy that dogged him
on the way to the career home run record.

Bonds was joined on a stage at Justin Herman Plaza by family, teammates, politicians and
Giants greats Willie McCovey and Willie Mays. The sometimes prickly
slugger smiled broadly as he thanked his parents, Mayor Gavin
Newsom, team owner Peter Magowan and especially the Giants
faithful.

"Love was giving me that strength," Bonds said. "You the
fans, the city of San Francisco -- that is why I'm the player I am
today."

With throngs in Giants black-and-orange cheering their hero, the
lovefest differed sharply from the scathing insults heaped on Bonds
at rival ballparks before his record-breaking 756th home run Aug.
7. Across the country, Bonds has faced detractors wielding placards
inscribed with asterisks -- baseball-fan shorthand for the belief
that his record is hopelessly tainted by allegations of steroid
abuse.

"Everybody in San Francisco is afraid to say anything bad about
Barry," said Stephen Quirk, 33, a San Francisco resident
originally from Boston who still roots for the Red Sox. "If you go
to any other city, it's like the complete opposite."

In San Francisco on Friday, there wasn't an asterisk in sight.

But even among Bonds supporters in the crowd, an undercurrent of
disenchantment was in evidence -- if not with the record-holder
himself, then with a league plagued for years with suspicions of
widespread performance-enhancing drug abuse.

"Even the pitchers were most likely doing it. Therefore I think
the record stands," said Art Gomez, 36, of Sacramento, who was in
town with his three kids, including a young son he described as a
big Bonds fan.

The influence of Bonds' achievement on children was a major
theme of the day's events. Video tributes from Joe Montana, Wayne
Gretzky and Michael Jordan culminated with a reprise of previous
home run record-holder Hank Aaron's message to the slugger
expressing hope that Bonds' 756th homer "will inspire others to
chase their own dream."

Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow said from the stage that he
recently met three kids in one day at AT&T Park who all said they
wanted to grow up to be like Barry Bonds. And Bonds himself said he
hoped his home runs would inspire the kids in the crowd.

Larry Pagel of Oshkosh, Wis., and his two sons came to observe
the festivities as part of their vacation in San Francisco. Each
was decked out in Milwaukee Brewers regalia in anticipation of
Friday night's game against the Giants. But they didn't all share
the same opinion of Bonds.

"I think it's just a major accomplishment no matter what
anybody thinks," Pagel said of Bonds' record-breaking shot. "If
he took [steroids], look at all the other people who probably took
them that need an asterisk. It's still a human body hitting a home
run ball."

But Pagel's son Tanner, 12, wasn't so sure Bonds could serve as
a good role model for himself and his friends. The record books
should probably carry a disclaimer next to Bonds' name, he said,
adding "people don't just gain muscles like that."

Bonds has long denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Federal
officials are investigating whether Bonds lied to a grand jury in
2003 when he testified that he never knowingly took steroids.

Regardless of the truth of the allegations, said Carlos
Gonzalez, who donned his Barry Bonds jersey and took time off work
to attend the celebration, Bonds deserves to be feted.

"He was a Hall of Famer even before the controversy erupted,"
Gonzalez, 34, said. "It doesn't take away the fact that he has
talent to play the game."