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In Bay Area, Barry Bonds remains a giant

Hometown fans are often more tolerant of an athlete whose alleged behavior on or off the field has drawn the ire of others.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, Erik SpanbergCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 1, 2007

This town still hearts Barry Bonds. Outside the San Francisco city limits, the slugger's quest to surpass the record for career homeruns – currently held by Hank Aaron – is viewed with skepticism, if not derision. But here, the steroid allegations, the surly reputation – all that noise can be muted with the crack of a bat.

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Just ask Gary Faselli. For the past two years, he has spent most Giants home games in the 55 degree water of San Francisco Bay, sitting in a kayak waiting for the slugger to whack one into the drink. "I think he's great. I don't think any of this talk that's going around really has much to do with where he's at now," says Mr. Faselli. He fended off a kayak scrum to scoop up Bonds's 738th home-run ball in April.

Residents of any city outside the Bay Area might shake their heads at this kind of devotion to Bonds. However, as so often happens in sports, hometown fans are often more tolerant or forgiving of athletes whose alleged behavior on or off the field has drawn the ire of others.

The steroid allegations against Bonds haven't led to official sanctions, meaning #25 can still count on the timeless, ahem, bonds formed between hometown fans and star athletes.

"People are not objective about their own players," says Ed Hirt, a psychology professor at Indiana University who often studies sports issues. "They excuse behavior or minimize it depending on the circumstances."

The circumstances can usually be boiled down to this: Can he help us win? If so, almost anything can be forgiven – short, perhaps, of an escape run in a white Ford Bronco.

"I always thought San Francisco was a pretty sophisticated city," says veteran Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford. "I guess this proves they're just like anyone else."

Some Bay Area fans concede as much.

"Sophistication and fandom are mutually exclusive," says Ray Ratto, a sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's something you do for fun, and when you go to a ballpark or a football game, you don't give it the golf clap."

Support for Bonds, he says, is a matter of concentric circles: The farther away from the ballpark, the less he is liked.

Inside the stadium, he's the star. Wearing a Bonds jersey, Trevor Tauzer from Davis, Calif., likened fellow fans to the die-hard Republicans who still defend the Iraq war decision because of their loyalty to the president; with Bonds it's loyalty to the team. "There's been all sorts of rumors and speculations and leaks to the press, but from my standpoint, if he doesn't belong on the field for these reasons the league should have him taken off," he says. "Until that time, I'll stand behind him as a Giants fan."

The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that Bonds told a grand jury he never knowingly took steroids. But Bonds has generally remained mum on doping allegations.

"I'm a fan of his," says Greg Bradford of Sacramento, but "if he didn't do it, he should just say it straight out."

Others Californians are less equivocal.

"I'm a fan of him as an athlete, but I'm not a fan of his behavior with the steroid controversy," says Paul Rosenberry of El Dorado Hills, Calif. "He probably has not represented the sport as well as he could have. He had a chance to be the greatest athlete in baseball history."