ST. PETERSBURG — Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, the former Alonso High star, current major-league star and rambunctious as ever, was saying he'd like to pitch to his team's hitting coach just once. Fernandez, 23, jaws back and forth with the coach, 51.
"I would throw him three fastballs," Fernandez said. "He'd probably hit them all out."
Barry Bonds, Miami Marlins hitting coach, stood on the steps of the visiting dugout at Tropicana Field on Wednesday before the Marlins and Rays played. Told of Fernandez's chatter, Bonds, affable and relaxed, broke out in a grin.
"I like him a lot," Bonds said. "He believes in himself. He believes in his ability and he wants to learn. I like his personality. I like confidence. But I like cockiness, too. I like 'em both."
Barry Bonds is back in baseball, back in the game he left nine seasons ago. He's on a one-year contract with Miami — his choice. He has hit more big-league home runs, in a career and a season, than any man in history. He's one of baseball's greatest hitters and most polarizing figures. This year, Bonds again came up well short of election to the Hall of Fame. I've yet to vote for him. He has six years of eligibility left.
Bonds stood in the dugout Wednesday and confessed:
He wasn't always fun to be around.
"When that light switch turned on, I was not a nice person to deal with," he said with a smile. "Not even for my teammates. When it came for game time, and that light switch turned on, I was a complete (jerk). That's just the way it was. It wasn't personal. It's just that that was my life.
"If I was playing today, you probably wouldn't like me. I ain't going to lie. I wouldn't like me, either."
Bonds is working for first-year Marlins manager Don Mattingly and with a talented group of Marlins hitters, including Giancarlo Stanton, Martin Prado, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Ichiro Suzuki.
"I'm enjoying myself a lot," Bonds said. "I didn't know what to expect out of it. But I honestly am having a great time. I have a great group here, too. We have a lot of fun, we laugh, they call me names … B.B., some say 'Kid,' I guess you get a lot of nicknames when you're a coach. If I was playing, and they did that, I'd probably fight every one of them. I'm not playing, so it's all good."
Miami hit .260 as a team last season. The Marlins are hitting .273 this year, second in the National League. They might be doing better if they had Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting champ. Late last month, Major League Baseball banned Gordon for 80 games for a PEDs violation.
"He's done a very good job," Yelich said of Bonds. "He's good to work with. He knows a lot of simple, easy things that make a big difference."
Suspicions and allegations will always be there. When Bonds was hired by Miami, he said, "God knows I'm a Hall of Famer." He hasn't changed his mind.
"God knows, everybody knows what I did on the field. I don't even need to justify it. It's really ridiculous. It's insulting to me. I just don't take it personal. Now, if I was playing I'd take it personal, I'd take it all personal. Now it doesn't matter what they say."
Bonds said he constantly talks to his hitters. He thinks of his father, the late Bobby Bonds. He thinks of his godfather: Willie Mays. They were always in his ear.
"I did this for my dad," Bonds said. "My dad was a teacher. I could have stayed (at home). I had guys who I train in the offseason and I do well with that. But I think of my dad, who'd say, You've got to get in there, son, you've got to get in the trenches with the boys and do it the right way, bad times and good times, arguments and non-arguments, frustrations and non-frustrations.
"You can be anyone you want, super great, but if you can't get to them, you can't get to them. … As a kid, you want results fast, instantaneous, like some genie in the bottle going 'Poom.' It doesn't work like that. I played 22 years, and never one time in those 22 years did I not have to put a puzzle together every year."
Bonds loves that Jose Fernandez wanting to pitch to him.
"I'm 51," Bonds said. "I haven't hit in years. … What would we be proving? But if you were to ask me this question in 2007, when I was still playing, I'm going to tell you exactly: He won't last three pitches. If he puts anyone of them over the plate, I will put them in the seats. …"
Another smile. Then he left the dugout to watch batting practice, to see his hitters hit. It's his job.