Bonds on his way, but Bernie might stay home

Monday, February 19th 2007, 6:24 am
By: News On 6

Barry Bonds is headed to San Francisco Giants camp _ the only question is when he'll arrive. Bernie Williams, on the other hand, might not show up for spring training at all.

After a drawn-out contract negotiation between Bonds and the Giants this offseason, the buzz about his approaching arrival has already begun in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Will he show up Monday, when position players are due to report? When will he speak? Is he in as good shape as he says after a winter of intense workouts at UCLA?

The hype surrounding the 42-year-old slugger _ who's been in Las Vegas for NBA All-Star game festivities _ will start in earnest the moment his vehicle pulls up at Scottsdale Stadium. His first workout with the entire team is scheduled for Tuesday, so he doesn't have to come to the ballpark until then. He wasn't even expected to get to the desert until late Monday.

``It'll be interesting,'' Giants pitcher Matt Cain said. ``He's always fun. He brings excitement to the team. He's got a goofy comment here and there, but it's fun to watch.''

Several television camera crews began to arrive Sunday in anticipation of Bonds' big entrance. Dogged by allegations of steroid use, the seven-time NL MVP is 22 homers from breaking Hank Aaron's career mark of 755.

New Giants manager Bruce Bochy is determined to prevent Bonds' record pursuit from becoming a distraction for the team _ a delicate balance of appreciating potential history while also staying focused on winning.

``I'm looking forward to seeing Barry on the field, especially the way he feels,'' said Bochy, the former skipper in San Diego. ``You're talking to a guy who's seen him on the other side. I'm happy to see him on our side.''

As for Williams, the longtime Yankees star wants a guaranteed roster spot, not a maybe, so it appears he won't be with the rest of New York's position players when they begin workouts Tuesday.

Manager Joe Torre planned to call Williams again, but catcher Jorge Posada thinks the outfielder can't be persuaded to accept a minor league contract.

``I called him and he hasn't returned my call,'' Posada said in Tampa, Fla. ``That just tells me something negative. That just tells me he won't be here.''

After 21 years in the Yankees' organization, including 16 with the major league team, the 38-year-old Williams feels slighted and doesn't think he should have to earn a job. His agent, Scott Boras, said Saturday that Williams hasn't shown any desire to do that or to play for another team.

Williams' No. 51 remains in storage, and pitcher Jose Veras has taken his corner locker in the Legends Field clubhouse. Williams' absence is as notable as the presence of any player, a hole in the fabric of the team's last great era, when the Yankees won four World Series titles from 1996-2000.

``I think he's hurt. I don't think there's any question,'' Torre said. ``He's a very proud individual. I know there are a lot of players in this clubhouse who certainly feel for Bernie. But, again, unfortunately, it's the nature of the game a lot of times.''

In Kissimmee, Fla., Atlanta Braves ace John Smoltz is enduring a trying time as he prepares for his 19th big league season.

Just a few days before pitchers and catchers reported to camp, Smoltz announced he was getting a divorce from his wife of 16 years _ a stunning blow for the deeply religious parents of four school-age children, a couple who expressed their faith through well-known philanthropy that included raising millions of dollars for a Christian school in suburban Atlanta.

The ordeal has clearly taken a toll on Smoltz, who's less than three months from his 40th birthday and noticeably thinner than he was a year ago. But he's counting on his convictions to get him through this personal crisis.

``I'm doing good,'' he insisted, speaking in a low voice while sitting at his locker. ``I'm focused on the right things. I'm talking about my faith. That's the only thing that's going to get me through any of this stuff. I'm still determined to be and do the same things I've done before. I'm trying to be positive. Attitude is a choice.''

Smoltz is approaching his divorce with the same attitude that helped him overcome some of his on-the-field hurdles, such as four elbow operations and the meandering career path that took him from starter to closer and back to starter again.

``I've had to overcome a lot,'' he said. ``It's not like I haven't had to do this before. From that standpoint, this will just be another challenge.''

In Fort Myers, Fla., new Boston pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 45 pitches during his 13-minute bullpen session. Red Sox manager Terry Francona said the right-hander would pitch his first exhibition game March 2 against Boston College.

``It's quite a bit early to make any assessment of anybody,'' catcher Jason Varitek said, ``but the ball definitely came out of his hand real well.''

Matsuzaka said through a translator that he threw ``at the level of maybe 60 to 70 percent and, for the beginning, I think it was good.''

In Sarasota, Fla., reliever Gary Majewski's right shoulder was still a concern when the Reds opened camp, forcing him to go easy in some drills. Cincinnati manager Jerry Narron said Majewski won't be allowed to throw off a mound for about a week.

``Anytime someone's not starting the first day, there's always going to be concern,'' Narron said. ``From my understanding, he should be ready pretty quick.''

In other news, the Washington Nationals and infielder Ronnie Belliard agreed to a non-guaranteed, minor league contract that will pay him $750,000 if he makes the team _ but manager Manny Acta made that sound like a foregone conclusion.

``He gives us depth up the middle,'' Acta said in Viera, Fla. ``He's coming here to be a backup guy.''