One really huge thing the king of the world gets is a $3,000 black leather Sharper Image massage recliner with accompanying footrest. Much has been made about this therapeutic marvel, mostly because it is supposed to be somehow revealing of the 36-year-old African-American man who likes to be left alone to recline on it in his section of the San Francisco Giants' clubhouse.
The king of the world gets his own section, all to himself (duh). This section features four wood-paneled lockers, and an entertainment system (cable television, VCR, master remote) that spans most of one wall. This section rules. This section also has rules. There are rules that govern the stuff, and then there are rules that govern the stuff's surrounding airspace. The first rule is that only the king of the world may use the stuff. The second rule is that most people are not allowed behind the stuff (specifically, the recliner) when the king of the world is on the stuff.
This latter rule, while making the king of the world the butt of many jokes by lesser people (mostly sportswriters), is an important one because it allows for the kind of psychological hearsay that could reveal fascinating things, like ... what, exactly, is the king of the world afraid of? Does he get uneasy when he does not know what may be lurking behind him? Has anyone lurked behind him in the past? Did that turn out badly?
These are all questions that will have to wait, because right now the king of the world -- a man by the name of Barry Lamar Bonds -- is napping on his recliner two hours before the San Francisco Giants will play the Pittsburgh Pirates on a sunny late afternoon at Pacific Bell Park.
Not wanting to upset Barry while he sleeps, I walk down the long corridor under the stadium until I reach the significantly smaller visiting team's clubhouse. There, I find former Giant and current Pirate Mike Benjamin licking on a frozen Drumstick in front of his locker. "Take me inside the head of Barry Bonds," I demand. "You played with Barry. Take me there. Take me in the head of the king of the world!"
"I'm not all that sure that I want to go there," he says, smiling. "But I really don't know what to tell you. I didn't really know Barry. I don't think anyone on the team back then really knew Barry. He was just a guy who set goals for himself and was going to achieve those goals, regardless of anything or anybody. That was Barry."
Back in the Giants' clubhouse, first baseman J.T. Snow says that he cannot enter the mind of Barry Bonds because there is no door for him to go through. "[Barry's mind] is a place that is off-limits to most of us," he says. "I have never walked in Barry's shoes. I have no idea what it's like to be Barry. I don't really know Barry."
I don't really know Barry, either. This is problematic because I am supposed to write about Barry, and I have so many questions for him: I want to know if he wakes up feeling happy or sad. I want to know why he adores whales, Muhammad Ali, and Batman movies. I want to know why so many people (fans, teammates, media types) believe him to be an asshole of award-winning proportions. I want to know why he seems happiest around small children, and what, if anything, that means. I want to know when, how, and why he decided not to run hard on grounders and pop-ups, making him the unofficial national spokesperson for non-hustle on the base paths.
I want to know what it feels like to hit a home run over the Old Navy Splash Landing sign and into the bay, where it is retrieved by a specially trained dog. I want to know why he can seem so angry and alone. I want to know if he ever wakes up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night and says to himself, "Fuck, will I ever play well in the playoffs?" I want to know why he sometimes says he does not care what people think, and other times says he really just wants to be loved, and I want to know if this means he wants to be loved as a baseball player, a person, or both.
Finally, I want to know this: Will the king of the world let me love him?
The next afternoon, I march into the Giants' clubhouse three hours before that night's game with the intention of showing Barry, through my positive vibes, that I am not like all those other writers who, Barry says, print lies and dress like slobs. I tuck in my shirt and walk toward Barry's section, stopping three feet from the recliner. I look at him. He looks at me. I forget what it is that I want to tell him. Then I remember: I want to tell him that I want to love him, but I fear he may take this in a way I do not intend it. Instead, I tell him that I am working on a cover story about him, and that I will be here for seven days, and that I would like to talk for a few minutes when he has a free moment.
"Man, you can't just blow into town and expect to get an interview with me," he says, shaking his head in that way that men do when they have been asked a tiresome question.