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New-look Giants ready to roll
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
"You know what, dude?" Bonds said. "We have a really good team."
A few days later, before their first home game at Scottsdale Stadium, Bonds was one of the first players to jump in line to participate in the first-to-third drills.
"We had guys running out of the clubhouse to get into the drills because Barry was out there," said a veteran player. Maybe, as some suggest, not having Jeff Kent around changes everything. Maybe Bonds is more comfortable with this team.
"Barry is always about winning," says Aurilia. "Not everyone always is. He is. That's why he takes the walks and tells us to go run when he's up, because he says, 'This game is about scoring runs and winning.' "
Two years ago, Shawon Dunston, who is missed on this year's team, bet Bonds that he'd top 70 homers. Last year, players said he should win a batting title.
This week, Aurilia told Barry, "Why don't you win the Triple Crown."
"I can't," said Bonds. "I can't get the RBI because of the walks." (In Game 1 of the World Series last year, Jarrod Washburn walked Bonds in his first at-bat leading off the second inning).
OK. Aurilia and others have a new goal for Bonds: batting .400. Considering that he hit 73 home runs three years after hitting 60, batting .400 62 years after Ted Williams hit .406 would be a fitting tribute and would get far more publicity.
"I don't want to put up with that," says Bonds. "I can't hit .400." Yes he can, and here's the first prediction that, if healthy, he could do it. Bonds batted .370 last season. What's the difference between .370 and .400?
Twelve hits. That's right, 12.
"Just hit 12 more balls the other way in the shift," says Aurilia.
Adds J.T. Snow: "Barry can do whatever he wants."
"Let's win the World Series," said Bonds.
The first day he arrived at spring training he said he got over losing the World Series when his wife reminded him that he said he prayed to play in the World Series.
"The lesson was be careful what you wish for," he says. "I'm going to wish for more."
The feeling among Giants players is that this team can be better than last year's club, although whether or not that means beating Arizona or making it back to the World Series is another matter.
"We took a lot from Anaheim," says Aurilia. "This team this year is better geared to play the kind of baseball they played in our park. Pac Bell is a brutal hitter's park. The only place where the ball carries at all is down the left-field line. We were older, more of a flyball team last year. This team has speed, gets on base more and can force mistakes. When you're out there freezing, mistakes are easy to make."
In Ray Durham, the Giants have one of the premier leadoff hitters in the game. New manager Felipe Alou plans to use Jose Cruz in the second spot in the batting order in order to get him some fastballs. Aurilia will bat in front of Bonds, while Edgardo Alfonzo will hit fifth and probably Snow in the sixth spot.
"Because Alfonzo handles the bat so well and has such a high on-base percentage the sixth hitter may be the key to the lineup," Alou says.
And Snow, who has been psyched by the winds of Pac Bell, looks like a totally different hitter. His stride is shortened and he's quicker to the ball.
"He looks great," says Bonds.
Said Snow: "I feel completely different."
As far as the pitching goes, Russ Ortiz is gone. But the Giants think Damian Moss can win 15 games and that Jason Schmidt is ready to be the anchor of the rotation. In Jesse Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth and Jerome Williams they also have three young pitchers who are very close to contributing .
And no one is happier than Alou.
"How could anyone have questioned my passion for the game," he says. "I managed seven years in A-ball. I was stuck there and never even asked to go to Double-A. This is my last stop. I am home with the Giants, and this is where I'll work when I'm done managing. Peter Magowan loves the Giants, maybe more than any owner loves his team. Whenever I came here with the Expos, he came to see me because I was a (former) Giant. This is a great situation. It's also a great experience to watch Barry Bonds."
In Bonds' first spring at-bat with Alou in charge -- and against Dusty Baker's Cubs, mind you -- Bonds hit a mammoth home run off Mark Prior. As Bonds rounded the bases, Dusty reminded him that during the season, he's going to walk him.
"Walk me and the Giants win," says Bonds.
Hangin' with the Giants
"I say, 'Go ahead and throw as hard as you can,' " says Bonds. "The catcher is going to catch it, and I'm going to catch the ball with my bat and let the pitcher supply the power."
Bonds is, however, working on a slight change. "I picked something up from David Eckstein in Japan," says Bonds. "I really like his approach to his swing, and I asked him how he does it."
"It's all in the first three inches starting the swing, keeping my hands in," says Eckstein. "It was amazing. I looked over one day when we were in Japan and there's Barry with my brother talking about the fundamentals of what I do. I couldn't believe it."
"If I hit a line drive at someone -- even Jay Bell standing in short right field -- I don't get upset. J.T. hits one right at someone, he throws his bat, and the next time up he tries even harder and pulls off the ball and he's messed up for the day. I tell him not to get upet because he's done his job."
"I don't concentrate on that as much as knowing how each pitcher is going to try to get me out," says Bonds. "If I face a pitcher a couple of times, I know how he's going to try to get me out, and I adjust to it."
"The first time I ran out into the defensive huddle with the water," says Snow. "One big defensive lineman said, 'Isn't this kind of a comedown for you in terms of how you make your living?' Then when I went out to the offense and offered Marshall Faulk the water, he said he didn't need any, and I said, 'Come on drink some, some of us want to get on TV."
Around the majors
"Unless you have someone like a Hoffman or a Robb Nen, you're just as well off using a few different guys," says Bochy. "I think Kevin Walker could close games, so could Brandon Villafuerte, maybe Jaret Wright, and maybe even Luther Hackman. We'll see, in time. In my mind, one of the most important things for the closer is to throw strikes."
Now, there are exceptions. Dennis Eckersley was a high guilt person who turned into one of the best closers in the game, and always accepted the responsibility for his results.
The Giants are talking about trading Felix Rodriguez and Ryan Jensen, although Rodriguez would be difficult to move as long as Robb Nen isn't ready to throw coming off shoulder surgery. And despite denials, several clubs claim that Mike Lowell could be had from Florida in order for the Marlins to lower payroll.
This and that
"I just feel completely different," says Burroughs.
When one looks at the Padres' young pitching -- Oliver Perez, Jake Peavy, Adam Eaton, Brian Lawrence, Ben Howard, Dennis Tankersley and a healthy Mike Bynum -- then look at their position players like Burroughs, Xavier Nady and Khalil Greene and one can only believe this will be a very good team in two years. At that point, Mark Kotsay, Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko should still be in their primes.
"You never know with pitchers," says Padres GM Kevin Towers.
San Diego has a minor-league policy that forces managers to pitch everyone. "Some so-called non-prospects have turned out to develop with the opportunity to throw innings," says Towers. "Rusty Tucker was supposed to be a soft tosser out of Maine who was going to be a mop-up man in A-ball. He got to pitch, was throwing in the 90s (80 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched) and might be our closer of the future."