Barry Bonds wasn't in San Francisco's starting lineup Sunday afternoon at Miller Park, which means the Brewers-Giants game was drained of much of its drama while most of the players were still lounging around the clubhouse in their underwear.
No matter how you feel about Bonds and his pursuit of the all-time home run record, you have to admit that every one of his plate appearances this weekend created the kind of tension and excitement that make sports worth watching.
From the booing of his name over the public address announcement to the quick, collective intake of break every time he unleashes his ferocious swing, Bonds' at-bats have a different feel than anybody else's.
Even the balls are different.
With Bonds on the brink of history, Major League Baseball officials swap out the baseballs for each of his at-bats. Instead of run-of-the-mill baseballs, they use ones that have been specially numbered for the purposes of authentication.
The man in charge of caring for those balls is Alex Sanchez, who is the attendant in the umpire's clubhouse at Miller Park. Sanchez is the guy who rubs the balls with the Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud, the Delaware River concoction used to take the shine off new balls for about 75 years.
"For a normal game, we rub up about 10 dozen balls," Sanchez said. "We've been doing about three dozen of the Bonds balls for each game. They are the same balls. We rub them up the same way. But, they put a couple of numbers on them after I'm done. The other day, I saw a 13 and a 47. I don't know what the code is, but they are the same balls."
Brewers pitcher Jeff Suppan, who started the game on Friday night, was asked if he could pick one of the "special" Bonds balls out of a bucket of the "regular" balls.
"Definitely," he said. "They feel totally different."
Suppan laughed. He was kidding, of course.
"I didn't notice a difference," he said. "I was just hoping he wouldn't hit it out of the park."
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