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Lawyers need time to prepare

SAN FRANCISCO -- A judge delayed until Friday a hearing on
who the rightful owner of Barry Bonds' 700th home run ball is,
giving lawyers on both sides time to make their cases.

Steve Williams, the Giants fan who ended up with the prized ball
during a melee in the left-center field bleachers at SBC Park on
Sept. 17, promised San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ronald
Quidachay that he would not sell the ball before Quidachay rules on
who it belongs to. The president of a Chicago-based auction company
has said the ball's value is in the "six figures."

Halting the sale of the ball allows a lawsuit brought by Timothy
Murphy, who claims Williams stole the ball from him, to proceed.

If the judge ultimately declines to block the ball from being
auctioned, Williams likely would be able to sell the ball
immediately and the case would be over.

But, before that, it took a twist.

Minutes before the hearing, another man, Alex Patino, said that
he was the rightful owner of the ball and is also planning on suing
Williams.

"I just rolled on it and trapped it," he said, adding that
Murphy "muffed" the catch.

His attorney, Nikita Scope, said Patino is the rightful owner
because Williams snatched it from him -- the same claim Murphy is
making.

"He sat on it and had possession," Scope said of Patino.

Murphy sued Williams on Tuesday, claiming he pinned the ball
underneath his leg during a scrum after the baseball struck
Murphy's chin. Murphy claims he is the ball's owner because
Williams stole it from him while he was in a pile of fans.

"We are confident that once evidence is presented in court in
the form of both witnesses and videotape, it will be clear that Mr.
Murphy had lawful possession of the ball and is the rightful
owner," Murphy's attorney, Joseph Scanlan Jr., said.

Williams' attorney, Daniel Horowitz, said the suit was
"frivolous" and an attempt "to extract money even when it is not
justified."

Bonds became the first new member of the 700-homer club in 31
years, joining Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. He now has 703 career home
runs and is closing in on Ruth (714) and Aaron (755).

Analysts said the ball is losing value as it remains ensnared in
a legal limbo -- especially as Bonds approaches Ruth's mark.

"It's worth the most right now," said Doug Allen, president of
MastroNet, a Chicago-based auctioneering company who valued the
ball at more than $100,000.

It is not the first time fans headed to court over the fate of a
Bonds' home run ball. In October 2001, Bonds' record-setting 73rd
homer of the season sparked litigation that ended when a judge
ordered both men to split the $450,000 the ball fetched.

That case included experts in baseball and ownership discussing
the rightful owner of baseballs hit into the stands.

With no legal precedent to determine the outcome, San Francisco
Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy said that both Alex Popov and
Patrick Hayashi each had a legitimate claim and neither should get
the ball outright.

A videotape showed the ball in Popov's glove. But the judge
could not conclude what defined possession -- Popov's split-second
catch or Hayashi's final grab after a scramble.