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Goliath joins David's fan club

Special to

April 3

When Barry Bonds went on the major-league All-Star tour of Japan last November, he developed a new friendship with one of the Angels who stole the World Series from the Giants, David Eckstein.

Barry Bonds
San Francisco Giants
403 46 110 .370 .582 1.381

"He's one of my favorite players ever," Bonds said. "I told him that he's a gift from God. Everything is difficult for him, yet he gets it done and done well."

The admiration is mutual.

"He sat around with me and a lot of the guys for hours almost every day, talking baseball and teaching," Eckstein said. "He never stops learning."

Case in point: Coming off two of the greatest seasons in baseball history, Bonds saw something in Eckstein's compact swing that piqued his curiosity.

"I really like his approach," Bonds said, "so I asked him how he does it. I'd never seen anything like it."

David Eckstein
Anaheim Angels
608 8 63 .370 .293 .607

Eckstein's hitting coach -- his brother Ricky -- happened to be on the trip.

"I couldn't believe it," David said. "I looked over one day, and there's Barry with my brother, talking about the fundamentals of what I do."

Trade secret? Nah. Eckstein gave it up.

"It's all in the first three inches," he said, "starting the swing, keeping my hands in."

Bonds quickly adapted it into his swing.

"I've been working on using it all spring," said Bonds, who peppered the Cactus League with 10 homers. "I never stop looking for things to try to make myself better. I can never stop thinking about being quick, and what Eckstein does could help me at my age. Right now, I beg pitchers to throw it as hard as they can. The catcher doesn't miss a pitch thrown 103 mph, does he? Well, I think of myself as 'catching' the ball with my bat, and letting the pitcher supply the power. Any little trigger at my age can't hurt."

Bonds also adopted Torii Hunter and a few other young stars in Japan.

"We all went out to dinner, hung," the Twins center fielder said. "What was interesting was that he treated us with a lot of respect. He told me how much he enjoyed playing with me. And he loved Eckstein. Barry really respects what he's made of himself."

"Watch Eckstein throw the ball across the infield, and it barely makes it," Bonds said. "Then get the game on, and he makes a great throw. He's special. I watched him make one great play, and it brought a tear to my eye to think that someone could will himself to be a winning major league player. We can all learn something from him."

And if Barry hits 80 this year, we all know who to blame.

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