Barry Bonds (83) Chase Turns Eyes to Fairbanks

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July 12, 2007
By Danny Martin

The 2006 Alaska Goldpanners souvenir program is very popular these days, simply because of one player on its cover – Barry Bonds. The image of Bonds is juxtaposed with two other former Goldpanners and current Major League Baseball Hall of Famers, Tom Seaver and Dave Winfield.

It is, though, the appearance of a 19-year-old Bonds holding a bat while wearing a red and gold No. 6 Alaska uniform in 1983 that leads to Todd Dennis receiving e-mails requesting copies of the program. Dennis, 35, is the Alaska Baseball League team’s operations manager, coordinator of its Web site (www.goldpanners.com) and the son of team general manager Don Dennis.

“Yes, we get several dozen requests of that nature once the season is over,” Don Dennis, 67, said in a telephone interview on Monday afternoon.

Those collectors will soon be clamoring, too, for a copy of this year’s Goldpanners’ schedule card. The team’s 44 games are listed on the back, and on the front is that same image of Bonds from almost a quarter century ago.

Rather than several dozen, the requests for the 2006 program and 2007 schedule card will probably reach the hundreds to thousands this year because Bonds is on the verge of becoming the all-time home runs leader in Major League Baseball.

The now 42-year-old left fielder for the San Francisco Giants is five shy of surpassing the legendary Henry Aaron, who delivered 755 career roundtrippers during a 22-year career (1954-76) as a right fielder with the Milwaukee Braves, Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers.

“Once the season is over and he (Bonds) becomes the home run king, we’ll offer them online,” Dennis said of the program and the schedule card, which for now is free at Growden Memorial Park on days the Goldpanners are playing.

Long before he saw Bonds become a favorite of memorabilia collectors, Don Dennis saw a slender teenager in 1983 who was “like any other young guy.”

“He was actually your average run-of-the-mill guy,” Dennis continued.

Dennis noted, too, that Bonds fit in perfectly with the Goldpanners.

“Nobody in our organization had a harsh word to say about Barry Bonds,” Dennis said. “He was exemplary and he was just an average college kid. He had a tremendous sense of humor, too.”

Twenty-four summers ago, Barry Lamar Bonds wasn’t chasing Hammerin’ Hank and he wasn’t alleged to have used performance enhancing substances. Nor was he playing in a league whose commissioner, because of those allegations, has yet to decide if he’ll be in attendance when Bonds breaks what is arguably the greatest record in professional sports.

“We’re very pro-Barry Bonds,” said Dennis, “and we choose to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

The biggest things Bonds dealt with in the summer of ’83 were his classes at Arizona State University and playing with the Goldpanners in a postseason-only stint.

Dennis had hoped to have Bonds for the ABL regular season that year but he understood and respected a priority of books before baseballs.

“His coaches wanted to be doubly and triply sure that his (academic) eligibility would be good,” Dennis said.

Dennis, though, knew the type of player the Goldpanners would get when Bonds eventually joined the team for the now-defunct Alaska Baseball League State Tournament at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage, and at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.

From 1982 to 1990, Dennis lived in the offseason in Tempe, Ariz., the home of Arizona State University, and he would regularly watch Bonds play for the Sun Devils of the Pacific-10 Conference.

“You had to watch him for one inning or one game … we’ve had a handful of those guys over the years and Barry was one of them,” Dennis said.

Rather than play in the outfield, Bonds was a first baseman for the Goldpanners, who that summer had what some major league scouts dubbed “The Million Dollar Outfield” – future major leaguers Mark Davis in left field, Oddibe McDowell in center and Shane Mack in right. Bonds and McDowell were also Arizona State teammates.

Bonds suited up but didn’t play in the ABL state tournament. But he got his Goldpanners uniform dirty in six games in Wichita, where Dennis and the rest of the Goldpanners organization saw a glimpse of the future.

“He had all the instincts and speed and quickness,” Dennis recalled. “He had tremendous bat control, which he still has.”

Bonds batted .222 as a Goldpanner, getting four hits in 18 at-bats with no home runs. He scored two runs, hit a double, drove in two runs, struck out six times and – what sounds like the Bonds of 2007 – got walked three times. He also stole four bases in five attempts.

Wichita was also where the now-famous photo of Bonds in his Goldpanners uniform was shot by a studio photographer.

“It has kind of become the standard young Barry photograph,” Dennis said.

Bonds is on the verge of setting a standard for career home runs in Major League Baseball.

“We’ve been big Barry Bonds supporters all along and that accomplishment will be absolutely terrific,” Dennis said. “Seaver and Winfield were two-year guys for the Goldpanners and Barry’s time was much lighter, but his name and face are bigger than Winfield’s and Seaver’s.

“Forty years from now, when you talk about home runs, Barry Bonds’ name will be the first to crop up and you’ll have to explain who Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron was.”

These days, Dennis doesn’t have to explain why the 2006 Goldpanners souvenir program and 2007 schedule card are very popular.

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