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BONDS: 'THE HARD PART'S OVER'

A day after making history, the controversial slugger returns to his usual routine.

A king without his crown; what a strange sight.

A day after his most remarkable triumph yet, Barry Bonds had no cap. And he already was late for the team photo.

"I don't have a hat," the slugger said loudly, moments before rushing from the clubhouse to rightfield to take the picture. "I need a hat."

On cue, longtime Giants equipment manager Mike Murphy scurried across the grass to deliver the necessary item to No. 25.

With his 756th home run out of the way and the most hallowed record in sports now his own, Bonds could finally turn his attention to more than hitting homers.

Bonds batted cleanup Wednesday night against the Nationals and hit his 757th career homer in the first.

From the White House, to international home run king Sadaharu Oh in Japan, to his first major-league manager, Jim Leyland, and on to Alex Rodriguez, the congratulations began to pour in for the San Francisco star, who realized in recent weeks just how difficult it is to clear the fences when that's all you're trying to do.

"Now, the hard part's over, and we get to actually go back to our everyday routines and enjoy ourselves," Bonds said.

Not that he didn't enjoy the celebration after breaking Hank Aaron's 33-year-old record Tuesday night in Bonds' home ballpark.

But Bonds quickly took a glimpse toward the future Wednesday: Yes, he does believe A-Rod will one day unseat him as home run king.

The Yankees third baseman reached 500 at age 32 and is far ahead of Bonds' pace.

"I'm not trying to set any bars. Alex will break my record," Bonds, 43, said, standing at his locker with a much smaller swarm of reporters than in recent weeks. "He's young enough to catch anybody. Like I said, I'm rooting for him. He got through one. Each one gets a little bit tougher."

Would he campaign for them to be teammates somewhere?

"I don't have recruiting powers," Bonds said.

It took him a while to wind down from all the excitement surrounding this feat. His wife, Liz, sported a black T-shirt reading "The King and I" on the front. And Bonds had his two daughters, Shikari and Aisha, son Nikolai, his mother, Pat, and a sister to celebrate the moment.

Not to mention Hall of Fame godfather Willie Mays, his agent, two trainers, two publicists and many other friends thrilled to be part of it.

Some fans watched the team photo unfold from the peek-a-boo knothole area beyond the fence from where the picture was shot.

"Barry!" one person hollered.

Bonds received a call from President Bush, a baseball fan and former Rangers owner, on Wednesday morning.

"He said congratulations. He said it was great to have my kids there, my family there," Bonds recalled of the conversation.

"With his father being famous as well, he understood the importance of my father. He said it was an outstanding achievement."

Bonds' solo shot to right-center gave his hometown fans yet another reason to cheer and celebrate him and forget, for a night at least, the suspicions that steroids fueled his pursuit of the Hammer.

"This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period," Bonds said late Tuesday night.

The tabloids certainly treated it as if it were.

The front page of the New York Post had a banner headline of "756" that was formed by syringes. The front page of the New York Daily News read: "King of Shame." The Boston Herald's back-page headline was: "King Con."

The Philadelphia Daily News' back page had 756 with an asterisk. The headline inside read: "Hail Yes or Hell No."

Commissioner Bud Selig, meanwhile, who has distanced himself from Bonds' pursuit, spent Tuesday night preparing to meet with his chief steroids investigator.

Selig watched the homer on television, then met with former Senate majority leader George Mitchell on Wednesday before returning to Milwaukee. Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, also was part of the session.

Mitchell said in May that his probe was in its "final phases," but he has not publicly stated a timetable for issuing his report.

Bonds' teammates, however, stand behind him.

"We're all cherishing this moment," Mark Sweeney said. "We're all happy for him and to be a part of it. It was a special night for San Francisco.

"All I can say from the 24 guys in this locker room, it's moment we'll remember. It's part of baseball history."

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