Barry Lamar Bonds was born on July 24, 1964, in Riverside, California. The son of three-time All-Star Bobby Bonds, godson of one of the game’s greatest players Willie Mays, and distant cousin of Reggie Jackson, another 500 Home Run Club® member, Bonds was destined for greatness. He spent his childhood years roaming the clubhouse at Candlestick Park, getting tips from Mays and other Giants.
When he was a kid, Barry could hit a whiffle ball hard enough to shatter glass. When he started hitting baseballs, no window was safe. He broke so many windows at his house that his mom, Pat, became a regular customer at a nearby glass store.
Barry started his habit of choking up on the bat when he was young. His father used to bring home major league bats for his son to play with. The bats were so big and heavy that Barry had to choke up when he swung. To this very day, Barry still chokes up on the bat.
Barry’s godfather was Bobby’s teammate, Willie Mays. Mays saw a lot of himself in the swift and powerful Bonds, and took him under his wing. He was also serious about his godfathering duties, watching over Barry as he shagged fly balls during batting practice in Candlestick Park as a kid.
As early as Barry can remember, both Willie and his dad were feeding him baseball advice. And throughout his childhood and later his baseball career, they never let his head get too big. Whenever Barry’s ego inflated, both men delighted in poking holes in it. The constant needling kept Barry grounded when everyone else was treating him like a god. And it kept him working hard where another player might have rested on his laurels.
Bobby and Willie knew Barry was playing to impress them, and used this to spur him on. They filled Barry’s young mind with the little secrets that had made them great ballplayers. They told Barry to think 0-2 even when the count was 3-and-1, to pretend he was 0-for-4 when he was 3-for-3. They always gave him challenges, and always rewarded him when he succeeded. Barry remembers push-up contests against his brother. Whoever won got more ice cream.
Barry also recalls his father attending his Little League games in the Northern California suburb of San Carlos—watching from his parked car so as not to create a commotion in the stands and steal his son’s spotlight.
An Interview with Barry Bonds
Let's have a chat * with the guy who grew up loving baseball and became the first Major Leaguer to become a 500/500 player (500 career home runs and 500 stolen bases):
What was it like growing up with a father who was a Major League player?
BB: Well, he was still just my dad. Dads are dads. But Willie Mays was my idol (laughing)...
Were both you and your brother Bobby interested in playing baseball even as little kids? Who was better then?
BB: All of my brothers played. I was the oldest, so I was better.
What youth leagues were you playing in?
BB: Whew...you’re making me go back in time! Let’s see, farm league, Little League, Babe Ruth, I played ‘em all! Every league you could think of until I got to the Major Leagues.
What is your favorite memory of your youth baseball days?
BB: Playing in a championship against Foster City. We lost the championship. I wanted to win because I had a coach named Joe Garagebaldi who passed away...and we wanted to win it for him.
Were you a great hitter when you were young?
BB: That’s what they say! I don’t know what’s considered a great hitter....I did pretty well.
You played high school baseball?
BB: I played every sport! Every sport, every year, anything I could play, I’d play!
What year were you in when you made varsity?
BB: I was a sophomore.
Were you the best hitter on your high school team?
BB: I don’t think so. It depends if you go by at-bats. Some of my friends said that they hit higher than me, but they may have had less at-bats than I had. There were guys who hit for a higher average, but we all hit .400 or something like that. My buddy might have hit .445 and I hit .430 (laughing).
What was your top skill in high school?
BB: Pretty much the same thing I do up here. I can hit, I can throw, I can play defense, I did everything. I can do it all. I’m doing it at this level and it’s the same...what you do as a kid is pretty much what you do when you get older. If you don’t run that much when you’re a kid, you don’t run that much when you get older. The older you get, the harder it is! So if you were an all-around athlete then, you’re going to be an all-around athlete when you get into the Major Leagues, or whatever sport you go into.
You hit for both power and average - what sort of hitter do you think of yourself as?
BB: Well, power hitters are like Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzales, Ken Griffey Jr., - but Griffey also hits for average - Mo Vaughn’s considered a power hitter, guys who don’t steal a lot of bases but yet still hit 40-50 home runs pretty much every year. I can’t be considered that because there’s another aspect of my game that’s not in their game.
And that’s running?
BB: Yeah, running, that’s about it. Everything else they do as well or better than me (laughing).
You became the first 500/500 player ever - Did you ever even dream you would be one of baseball’s best players of all time?
BB: My dream was just to play in the Major Leagues. I never saw anything that far ahead...I never tried to predict the future. I just wanted to try to get to the next step. That’s why, when I got drafted out of high school, I wanted to go to college, because I thought if I could play at the next level with all the top athletes in that calibre, then I was ready for the next level. I never tried to jump too far ahead of myself.
What goal as a player have you set for yourself?
BB: My goal was always to win a World Series, because that’s a team thing. But the biggest goal as an individual is probably to go to the Hall of Fame. That’s the highest standard in baseball, the Hall of Fame. I mean for the rest of your life, people are going to walk through this museum and have the opportunity to read history or know about (these) people forever! I think that’s the greatest feat as an individual. As a team, it’s the World Series, because it takes everyone to do that.
Let’s talk about kids. What is the most important aspect of being a good hitter?
BB: Confidence. You have to challenge yourself and you have to beat the fear inside of your body. Most times, kids that play are more afraid of the baseball and getting hit, than actually of playing the sport itself. Kids have grown up and gotten into fights, or gotten spankings from their parents, fell off their skateboards, or bicycle, and things like that...and yet this one little ball puts fear in their mind.
One tiny baseball that hits me is not going to hurt me, as much as riding my bicycle down the street and possible getting all scarred up and in the hospital! Yet kids are going to go with their motocross bikes and take those crazy jumps. You have to overcome your fear. Once you overcome your fear, and you build your confidence, then you’ve accomplished a lot.
You think that’s the main problem with young hitters?
BB: Pretty much. Once you overcome that fear, you can become very successful.
Is there a favorite hitting drill you used as a kid?
BB: I always used a wooden bat. My dad emphasized swinging a wooden bat instead of aluminum when I was a kid. And then when I went with my organized team, I’d swing aluminum. If your goal is to make the Major Leagues, the sooner you get comfortable with a wooden bat, the better you’re going to be.
Is there a particular drill a kid can practice alone to improve his hitting?
BB: Oooh, you probably have to ask Tony Gwynn, he’s the best hitter in baseball, not me! (laughing) I’d say the best thing is hitting the ball off the tee. To me, that’s the hardest drill, consistently hitting that ball correctly off the tee.
What do you think about kids learning to switch hit? Is it ever necessary?
BB: Only if the child’s capable of doing it. Doing it just to do it, I don’t think it’s a smart idea.
Did you ever try to switch hit as a kid?
BB: No. As a kid there were no left-handed pitchers, they were mostly all right-handed, and as a lefty I was doing great!
If you could give youth baseball coaches one tip, what would it be?
BB: It depends what age group you’re talking about. Well, it really doesn’t matter. Teach the kids to go to the baseball if you’re hitting. A lot of times my dad taught us to try to step on the plate, keep yourself forward, because that’s your best opportunity to hit the ball and it keeps your head straight. I wouldn’t know what to tell them, because you’d have to be with those kids to understand each individual child and to be able to be a good coach.
I remember being a coach for a team in Hutchison, Kansas, and I had one kid who couldn’t hit. I spent the whole day with him building his confidence. He ended up being my best hitter on the team. I think as a coach you need to work with each individual child and get the best out of that child.
Originally published online at www.juniorbaseball.com