PITTSBURGH - Almost from the moment it was announced
Many felt that Bonds would be booed and heckled like so many of Pittsburgh's
estranged professional athletes. Others felt he would be given the applause appropriate for a highly-decorated superstar.
Bonds wasn't born in Pittsburgh, but this is where his baseball legend began
. On Monday he was back to the city he called home from 1986 to 1992.
On his way to PNC Park, Bonds drove past his old apartment in Coraopolis, and then, at a pregame news conference, he sat next to his former boss, Jim Leyland, for whom Bonds had high praise.
“It feels good to be back where it all started,” the slugger said.
His appearance was the highlight of the pregame festivities
. Before the Pirates opened their 2014 season, they got down to the business of welcoming back one of their greatest players, who, along with Leyland, Dick Groat and Jack Wilson, recognized last season's award winners.
Bonds walked slowly toward home plate with a group that also included Andrew McCutchen, last season's MVP, and the team’s best player since Bonds.
The introduction of Bonds was greeted with a few hollow boos, but the jeers were quickly overtaken by cheers.
Overall, and maybe surprisingly, it was a very positive reaction from the PNC Park regular-season record crowd of 39,833. His reunion with Pittsburgh had come and gone, and moments later, after a short walk up the tunnel from the field, Bonds was noticeably more relaxed.
He told Channel 11’s Alby Oxenreiter that he never doubted that many Pittsburgh fans loved and respected him, but he understood that others were still angry that he left town.
Oxenreiter said he seemed relieved, and perhaps with the tension of the pregame moments behind him, Bonds opened up
and appeared to be genuinely happy to see so many familiar faces.
“When I showed him a picture saved in my phone of an interview that I had done with him in the early 90s, Bonds laughed and said, ‘That's when I had attitude,’” Oxenreiter said.
“I had to talk to you then. I don’t have to talk with you now,” Bonds said.
He took a few pictures, including one with two members of the grounds crew. Then
his time at PNC Park was over.
Bonds had arrived only moments before his on-field appearance, and shortly
after he was on his way back to the airport to make the trip back west.
It was a quick visit, but a significant one as Bonds began the process of rehabilitating his image with the city
and the fans who followed him on the roller coaster of his first seven major league seasons, which included an infamous spring training tongue-lashing from Leyland, three consecutive division titles and his first two MVP seasons.
Bonds was reflective.
“We had some great times here,” he said.
he can start to enjoy the many moments of his Pittsburgh past.