I couldn’t have had a closer vantage point to watch Barry Bonds compete back in his playing days if I sat in front row seats in the left field bleachers. So regardless of my feelings on the Barry Bonds trial, its relative importance in the United States and the world considering everything going on in Japan and the Middle East, or even the lunacy of trying to eradicate performance enhancing drugs, I had to go to Bonds’ trial this afternoon. Through unusual circumstances and the generosity of David Fucillo, the guy who runs SB Nation Bay Area and Niners Nation, I got front bench seats.
I had a pass instead of a ticket, and I found myself parked between Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News and Lance Williams, the non-hyphenated half of the famous duo who wrote Game of Shadows. How I got there started with a midday stroll from work to McDonald’s on Van Ness, where Fooch handed me the pass and told me the prosecution’s star witness, Steven Hoskins, was about to be cross-examined by Bonds’ attorney, Allen Ruby. And to get down there fast, because the early lunch break was almost over.
It’s about 200% easier to get into a U.S. District Courtroom on the 19th floor of a federal building in downtown San Francisco than it does to get onto a commuter flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Don’t bring a weapon, and you’re in. All you have to do is find the elevator. Once you get into the courtroom, there are a few benches on each side. On the right side, a couple benches are reserved for “public” seating, a couple for media, and the front row for the sketch artist, whose left hand held a white tray full of different colors of oil paint.
The afternoon session was about to begin, and I grabbed a seat in the media section on the left in the third row (yeah, my “front bench” comment was a bit of an exaggeration), 20-25 feet away from Bonds. The courtroom had wooden walls with an easily visible clock on the left side if you’re looking at the witness stand, directly (and cruelly) across from the jury. As soon as I sat down, I looked at Bonds to see what I could ascertain about his physical appearance. Actually, I just couldn’t believe I was so close to Bonds during the trial which will in some ways define the next few years of his life, if not longer.
He turned and stared at me. Looked me right in the eye, and I felt a little ashamed. What is this, the zoo? It kind of felt like it, with the barrier between the benches were I sat and the area where Bonds was, with all the leather chairs, the jury, bailiff, court reporter and a judge who looks (but thankfully doesn’t sound) like Judge Judy. And I’m staring at a guy who, regardless of the rich and fame and records and love (at least around here) he’s received, is a defendant in a court case where his opponent isn’t the city of San Francisco, or the state of California. At least according to signs on the ends of the benches which read:
“U.S.A. vs. Barry Lamar Bonds”
Eventually Bonds looked away, although I admit if I was pitted in a staring contest against the home run king right there, I probably lost. Over the course of the afternoon, watching Bonds became less and less interesting. Most of the time he sat expressionless, either watching Hoskins (his former childhood friend, best man and business associate) or staring at the notepad he wrote on several times. I kept wondering what he was writing. Was he noting inconsistencies and/or lies in Hoskins’ testimony? Drawing pictures of Rick Reilly with a huge syringe sticking out of his backside? Doing his best Bryant Gumbel impression, with the lawyers playing the parts of Frank DeFord and Armen Keteyian?
After spending so much time in a baseball uniform as the individual whose dominance in terms of production and volatility made it seem like he won a team game by himself on many afternoons, today was a stark contrast. His thinner frame on Wednesday afternoon was tucked inside a well-tailored suit, with his former toadie the star of the show on the stand, and Ruby and the rest of his legal team the only ones who could save him.
By all accounts, and from someone who got their only A+ in college in a Logic class but otherwise knows very little about the law that one can’t glean from a John Grisham novel, Ruby and his boys did an awfully good job. It’s pretty clear Ruby wants to paint Hoskins as a man scorned, a guy who responded to Bonds pushing him out of his business circle by secretly recording conversations with Greg Anderson and Dr. Arthur Ting to blackmail Bonds or otherwise make him pay by reporting him to the media and/or the feds.
Hoskins said that wasn’t true, that he recorded conversations about undetectable steroids and their side effects in order to show Bobby Bonds what danger his son was in. Those recordings never made it to Bobby because, according to Hoskins, Bobby was too sick.
They played two separate recordings, the first right after I arrived. It had a transcript, and I could tell as I read along with the mumbled words between Hoskins and Anderson that I was eavesdropping on what was probably the most important part of the trial.
If you want to see what was said in the first recording played, it’s here. I don’t know how important it was to the case, but this was my favorite quote, when a familiar face meanders by while Anderson is describing just how disgusting it can get when you inject a ton of steroids into your leg:
No, what happens is they — they put too much in one area. And what it does, it will — it will actually ball up and puddle. What happens is, it will actually eat away and leave an indentation, and it’s a cyst. It makes a big fucking cyst, and you have to drain it. Oh yeah, it’s gnarly. Hi Benito. Oh, it’s gnarly.
First, the phrases “ball up and puddle” and “eat away” are not things you want people saying about your leg. And second, if you don’t think I went and renamed one of my two fantasy baseball teams “Hi Benito,” you don’t know me that well.
I was on Twitter most of the afternoon until my phone died, and then I just sat and listened (every single other person around me was writing their stories on laptops, which made me feel a little silly for not wanting to take my work computer to the courthouse). After listening to another conversation with Anderson that Hoskins reported that didn’t come with a transcript for all of us to read (which meant we couldn’t understand anything), Ruby pressed Hoskins on whether he had shown the contents of the conversation to anyone in the media. Hoskins said he had. Who?
Lance Williams, who was sitting next to me. Here’s how it was for everyone sitting in the media area:
It was the perfect end to one of the most surreal afternoons of my life. While I know Bonds is being pursued a little too doggedly by the feds (caught sight of Jeff Nowitzky, who sat with the prosecution and was out in the hall during recess), and the questioning can get pretty granular and tedious at times, but seeing it all take place was fascinating all the same.