PITTSBURGH (AP) – Barry Bonds spent a portion of Monday morning driving around Pittsburgh, marveling at the changes he’s seen in the city since baseball’s career home run king bolted for San Francisco more than two decades ago.
He drove by his old apartment in the western suburbs and the reconfigured North Shore, where Three Rivers Stadium has been replaced by sparkling PNC Park.
The makeover hasn’t been limited to the scenery. After 21 years, it appears the old wounds surrounding Bonds’ abrupt departure have started to heal, too.
Bonds drew a mixture of boos and cheers while presenting current Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen with the 2013 NL MVP award. Bonds was the previous Pirates player to win the honor, earning the second of his record seven career MVP trophies in 1992.
Standing next to McCutchen, Bonds waved to the packed house and seemed at ease in his first public appearance in conjunction with the team where he starred from 1986-92 before leaving for San Francisco via free agency.
“It feels good to be back where it all started,” Bonds said. “We had some great times here.”
Bonds then sat in the stands and watched as the Pirates opened against the Chicago Cubs.
Bonds won the 1990 and 1992 MVP awards while playing for the Pirates from 1986-92 and led the team to three straight NL East titles. Each playoff trip, however, fell short of the World Series, most notably a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 NL championship series that ended when Bonds’ throw from left field failed to stop Atlanta’s Sid Bream from scoring the series-clinching run.
He left for San Francisco and a then-record six-year, $43-million deal two months later, where Bonds eventually broke Hank Aaron’s record for career home runs, finishing with 762 before leaving after the 2007 season.
Bonds declined to draw any comparisons between himself and McCutchen, who easily won the MVP award last season a year after finishing third in the voting.
“He’s got the formula now,” Bonds said. “Once you do it once, I expect you to do it again.”
Bonds was joined by a familiar face as the Pirates put the finishing touches on a breakout 2013 when they won 94 games and made it to the NL division series. Former manager Jim Leyland presented current skipper Clint Hurdle with his NL Manager of the Year Award and credited Hurdle for helping turn the franchise around.
After spending years watching his former club serve as a laughingstock, Leyland is confident the Pirates are back.
“They’re the real deal now,” Leyland said. “They should be here for a long time.”
And while he steered clear of the politics surrounding Bonds’ place in baseball history, Leyland left no doubt about whether Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame. Bonds fell well short of the 75 percent threshold required for induction during his second year of eligibility, with many voters saying they wouldn’t put him in because of the steroids cloud.
“In my opinion, Barry Bonds is a Hall of Fame player,” said Leyland, who managed the Pirates from 1986-96 and is now retired. “There’s no doubt about it.”