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Barry Bonds Buzz About To Start Humming

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AP
The Barry Bonds buzz has begun, along with a whole lot of questions: What time will he arrive at spring training? Or will he even show at all Monday when position players are to report? When will he speak? Is he in as good shape as he says after a winter of intense workouts at UCLA?

The hype surrounding San Francisco's 42-year-old slugger _ who's been in Las Vegas for NBA All-Star game festivities _ will start in earnest the second his vehicle pulls up at Scottsdale Stadium. His first workout with the entire team is scheduled for Tuesday, so he doesn't have to show at the ballpark until then. He wasn't even expected to get to the desert until later in the day Monday.

"It'll be interesting," pitcher Matt Cain said Sunday. "He's always fun. He brings excitement to the team. He's got a goofy comment here and there, but it's fun to watch."

Last season, the seven-time NL MVP moved past Babe Ruth for second place on the career home run list amid further allegations of steroid use. It could be even more crazy this season considering he is 22 homers from passing Hank Aaron's career record of 755 and reportedly failed an amphetamines test last year.

What's more, he is still being investigated by a federal grand jury trying to determine whether he perjured himself when he testified in 2003 in the BALCO steroid distribution case that he hadn't knowingly taken performance-enhancing drugs.

"The last time it was a zoo was when he chased the single-season record," pitcher Russ Ortiz said, referring to Bonds' 73-homer season in 2001. "Now he's chasing what's considered the most coveted record in the game."

Several television camera crews began to arrive Sunday in anticipation of Bonds' big entrance, signaling the official start of his 22nd major league season and 15th with the Giants. He had offseason surgery on his left elbow but has been deemed completely healthy after he batted .270 with 26 homers and 77 RBIs and drew 115 walks in 130 games last year.

"He's probably the best player of all time," said new San Francisco catcher Bengie Molina, who played with Bonds in a tour to Japan in 2000. "I can't wait to play with him. For me, it's exciting just to be able to share the same field and be in the same lineup with a guy who changed the game. I had fun with him. Obviously he's the kind of player everyone will have fun with."

Bonds finally signed his revised $15.8 million, one-year contract Tuesday, then it was sent by overnight mail to the Giants. The team faxed a copy to the commissioner's office for approval.

Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, and the Giants reached a preliminary agreement Dec. 7, then spent weeks negotiating the final terms. The team announced the deal Jan. 29 and Bonds did an interview by conference call.

But his first contract contained a provision detailing his responsibilities for promotional appearances and was rejected by the commissioner's office. The provision was scrapped in the new deal.

The contract also contained a provision stating the Giants could terminate the deal in the event Bonds is indicted, language Borris has said is unenforceable under baseball's labor agreement.

Manager Bruce Bochy is determined to prevent Bonds' home-run pursuit from becoming a distraction for the team _ a delicate balance of appreciating potential history while also staying focused on winning.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Barry on the field, especially the way he feels," said Bochy, who while with the Padres watched his team give up the most homers to Bonds of any club. "You're talking to a guy who's seen him on the other side. I'm happy to see him on our side."

Bonds typically has about a half-dozen parking spaces to his name at spring training, though that number might be smaller now that his personal trainers aren't allowed to be with him in the clubhouse or in restricted areas of the ballpark.

As part of the new contract, HarveShields and Greg Oliver are no longer on the Giants' payroll and won't be allowed in the clubhouse, where they used to have their own lockers near Bonds' corner space.

Bonds has hinted he might pay for both men to join him on road trips.

A smaller group around him could cut down on some of the drama, though it's doubtful. His teammates are prepared for the media swarm.

"I think he's ready for it," Molina said. "It's his deal; it's his thing. He gets it done _ that's the biggest thing. That's why you've got to see him on the field. If he has problems off the field, it doesn't concern us."