SAN FRANCISCO -- For an hour, while small groups filtered around the platforms of the other National League All-Stars in the Westin's grand ballroom, only one dais held steady with an overflowing push of reporters lofting question after question at the man of the week, the man of the season.
It has officially been billed as Major League Baseball's 78th All-Star Game, but, judging from the crowd that wouldn't go away during yesterday's annual media session, tonight's contest at AT&T; Park is the Barry Bonds All-Star Game.
"Really, the feelings you have inside, you can't explain," said Bonds, the San Francisco Giants left fielder who grew up not far from the club's old stadium, Candlestick Park. "To be able to be at your home, on your stage, is amazing. To be able to live the dream, to have great, great years and then have the opportunity to have an All-Star Game in my hometown is a great feeling."
This isn't just any hometown event for an ordinary player, of course. This is all about Bonds, the 42-year-old, love-him-or-hate-him superstar who is just four home runs away from tying Hall of Famer Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755.
The buzz surrounding him, and the marriage between his pursuit of Aaron and the midsummer classic in San Francisco, isn't lost on the other players here.
"It really is kind of his All-Star Game," Cleveland Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore said. "It's in his town, late in his career in a big year for him. It's exciting to see, and it will be exciting to watch him out there."
His performance this season - 17 homers and a .512 on-base percentage - and the allure of the home run chase helped propel Bonds into a starting role this year, his 14th appearance but first start since 2004. He did it with a final-week push of roughly 250,000 votes to total more than 2 million. It's proof of his talent and popularity, despite accusations that he has used performance-enhancing drugs.
"I've got 2 million friends you guys didn't know about. And I love it. I love it," Bonds chided reporters yesterday. "I thought I played good enough to be in the All-Star Game, but I didn't know about the actual starting part."
During his meeting with reporters yesterday, Bonds was asked about a variety of subjects, including his national image - which he believes has been tainted by observers, including the news media.
"My thing is I feel disappointed in those fans that are influenced by third-party judgment and have not given me that opportunity to get to know me," said Bonds, who taped yesterday's session with plans to put the uncut version on his Web site so fans can read the entire thing. "The people in San Francisco know me. The fans here know."
He also addressed how baseball is handling the home run pursuit. Aaron has said he wouldn't be at the record-breaking game, and commissioner Bud Selig has yet to announce whether he will attend.
Bonds has contrasting views on the issue; he understands Aaron's decision.
"I really admire Hank Aaron, and no one can determine when [the 756th homer] is going to happen, and Hank has a life, too," Bonds said. "It could go weeks. Do you expect this man to just travel all over the entire continent for weeks? It is just not fair to him."
As for Selig, Bonds isn't as understanding. He said he doesn't have a problem if Selig doesn't show up, but he said: "I think it is terrible the way it has gone down. That's all. But I mean that is up to Bud. That's not up to me. I am going to do my thing, anyway. ... Bud is his own man, and I respect him. He is his own man. Whether Bud shows up or doesn't show up, I am going to play baseball that day."
However, Bonds said if he were baseball commissioner and such a storied record were about to be broken, he wouldn't hesitate to travel. "Would I be there? It's my duty," he said. "That's me. I am not speaking for him."
Bonds added that if New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who at 31 has 494 homers, eventually breaks Bonds' home run mark, he'll be in attendance.
"I'd be there in a heartbeat ... " Bonds said. "I told Alex: 'Man, you'll break it. And when you do, you don't have to worry about calling me. I'll call you. If you want me there, I'll be there. The same thing like my godfather [Willie Mays] did for me.' "
Bonds, however, isn't talking retirement yet. He wants to get to 756 homers and beyond. He feels he owes it to himself to keep playing as long as he can.
"I've got some time, buddy. My skills ain't that bad," he said. "If I walk away from the game knowing I can still play the game, it wouldn't have a happy ending. I have to walk away when I know I can't do it anymore."
He's making no predictions of when the history-maker will come. He said he is having more fun with it than he had anticipated, and he joked that he might drag it out.
"I might make you wait till next year. You know I'm drama, so why not make it more drama?" Bonds said. "Because that's what you guys say. I am drama, so let's make it more drama."
If it happens on the road, where he is usually booed, he said he's not sure of the reception he'll get. But he expects fans to be excited by the spectacle.
"They boo, but all them cameras click when I swing, don't they? Boo, but click click click click," he said. "The fans enjoy the game of baseball, regardless what anybody says. They are going to come. They want to see it happen."