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They have a childhood bond with Barry

This is a Barry Bonds story that starts in the Learys' swimming pool. There are other places it could begin.

Like a Friday night in the Belmont Iceland, where Barry and Rob Leary and Bobby McKercher would go ice skating and meet girls.

The movie theater in San Carlos, where 10 kids, including Barry, would tumble out of Carol McKercher's VW bug to see "Saturday Night Fever" for the 13th or 14th time.

Burton Park, where Rob Leary and his brothers would ride their bikes up from the south side, and Barry and his brothers, BB and Ricky, would ride their bikes down from the hills on the north side with Bobby McKercher and his brother, and they would play -- baseball, basketball, hide and seek, tag, war -- until they had to beat the darkness home.

The rec room in the Bonds house, which had a catch net set up long before catch nets were readily available. Barry's father, Bobby, would come down and offer batting tips to his buddies while they hit off a tee or played soft toss. The Bonds house was nice, but no different than the house next door. Except for the mementos inside -- the Gold Gloves Bobby Bonds had won, which his younger sons would sometimes take outside to play catch with until their mother, Pat, would scold them.

Or maybe on Highway 101, in the brown "Scooby Doo" van that Barry used to drive his buddies to their high school baseball games, with the seat tilted way back, his left foot hanging out the window while Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, and Shalimar blasted on the stereo.

But the swimming pool is always the first thing Judith Leary -- the mother of the Red Sox minor league field coordinator -- brings up when she's talking about Barry with her son. Barry and the diving board.

"We must have been 14, 15, 16 years old at the time," Rob Leary said the other day while sitting in the lobby of a Brookline hotel where he and his buddy, Bobby McKercher, are hanging out in advance of Barry Bonds's first game at Fenway Park. "We had a big pool, and we had a diving board, and it had some cracks in it. This thing could spring. Of course, Barry didn't need any help jumping, but we did. I couldn't do a flip off the side of the pool.

"Anyway, Barry basically finished it off. There were about four or five or six of us swimming, there always were, and you heard the loud crack and snap, and the tip of it was sticking out of the water.

"To this day, any time my mom sees him or talks about him, she says, 'You tell him he still owes me a diving board.' "

Friendship in making
Rob Leary first met Bonds when they were about 7. Their families lived in San Carlos, Calif., an affluent suburb about halfway between San Francisco and San Jose. They met in a coach-pitch league, the kind where the kids wear jeans with their team T-shirts and caps. Barry played for the Yankees. Rob and Bobby played for the Colts. Barry's father, Bobby, played for the San Francisco Giants. "I had a Rawlings glove with one finger that stuck out," Rob Leary said, "and every time Bobby would come to a game, we'd run over to the car and have him sign something. I must have had 10 Bobby Bonds signatures on the finger of that glove."

Rob's father, Bob, worked for F Uri and Company, delivering meat in a small refrigerated van to restaurants and hospitals. Bobby McKercher's father was the deputy county sheriff and refereed college basketball games.

They played against each other in Little League, then together for the Babe Ruth League team sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and coached by Bob Leary. "My father was short but very loud," Rob Leary said. "He called everybody a turkey," Bobby McKercher said.

That included Barry, especially the day he hit a ball over the head of the right fielder, who must have been playing him back 400 feet, the ball carrying into the middle of the softball field. Rob and Bobby figured the ball traveled 450 feet and rolled another 50. Barry stood and watched it. Then he slipped coming out of the batter's box. Then he circled the bases, laughing most of the way until he was thrown out at the plate. "Must have been a double relay," Bobby McKercher said. "He came back to the dugout and started making an excuse, and I said, 'Don't even go there.' Bob Leary was coaching third. He was really mad."

This is when the friendship began. It was cemented at Junipero Serra High School, the Catholic prep school that has a history of great athletes. Jim Fregosi and Gregg Jefferies came out of Serra. So did Lynn Swann and Tom Brady.

Bobby McKercher pitched and played shortstop. He batted third. Barry batted fourth and played center, pitched, and even though he was lefthanded, he caught a few games. Rob Leary was the catcher and pitched, too. Rob was also the quarterback the two years Bonds played wide receiver at Serra. Bobby was the shooting guard on the basketball team. Barry was the small forward. "Not many guys could keep up with Barry," Bobby McKercher said.

Judith Leary and Carol McKercher, whose sons gently joshed about their perms and beehive hairdos, became fast friends with Pat Bonds, Barry's mother. "They called each other 'Sister,' " Rob Leary said.

There was another kid who hung out with them, by the name of Greg Anderson. "Bobby's mother used to watch him and his sister," Rob Leary said.

Greg Anderson would later become Barry's personal trainer, and serve a prison sentence in connection with the BALCO steroid scandal.

"I don't go down that road," said Bobby McKercher, when asked how he squares the massive Bonds of today with the "long and lanky" kid who could do just about anything he wanted in any sport, including winning a pickup game of tennis against one of Bobby's former girlfriends, a touring tennis pro.

"I don't, either," Rob Leary said. "The one thing I know beyond the shadow of a doubt, from the day he signed his first professional contract, I have yet to see a player work harder than him. There are definitely guys who work as hard, but I can guarantee you there isn't a superstar in his era -- not our era, it's his -- I can guarantee you there isn't a player who has outworked him. I'm talking on the field as well as off the field.

"I'll never go down that other road because, I just, you know . . ."

These are among Barry Bonds's oldest friends, and their loyalty does not waver.

Unrealistic expectations
His friends remember how Barry burned with the desire to be recognized as someone other than "Bobby Bonds's son," and how any time he was challenged in high school because of his last name, he responded with a fury that others took as arrogance or worse.

"Everybody looked at Barry as Bobby Bonds's son," Bobby McKercher said. "He saw how people would get on his dad. He saw growing up around the Giants how Willie Mays was treated, Tito Fuentes, Willie McCovey, Jim Davenport, guys who had been legends, who lived in the community, he saw how they got shipped out when they got old. He not only was taught the game by major league players, he also learned how to survive, that it was a tough business.

"His own father going from one team to the next -- nine, 10 teams -- that was hard. Bobby was labeled the next Willie Mays. Barry didn't want that. He didn't want to be the next Bobby Bonds. If his name had been Barry Smith, he wouldn't have been half the target."

When Rob Leary was told of an interview Barry once gave in which he said, "I was the only black kid at parties. Always. It was hard," he said he never heard a whiff of that sentiment from Barry.

Ask Bobby McKercher whether Barry Bonds had a troubled childhood -- Bobby Bonds had a serious drinking problem -- and he turns protective.

"That's personal stuff," he said. "Everybody has their tough times growing up. If Barry wants to talk about that, I leave it to Barry. I think we had a pretty good life growing up. We all had support. If it wasn't our family, I had the Learys. If Barry needed anything, he knew he could go to one of three or four houses and feel safe and do what he wanted to do. If I had a problem in my household, I knew where I could go."

Bobby McKercher went to Arizona State with Bonds. He says the coach, Jim Brock, built up unrealistic expectations for Bonds, which fostered enormous resentment among his teammates. "I've never seen such animosity," McKercher said. "[Brock] should have quashed it early, and he didn't."

Many people, of course, would say Bonds's problems are of his own making -- that he has done little to create a more favorable impression.

"One of the most unfortunate things, through my eyes, with Barry is that people don't know him like we do," Leary said. "It's not other people's fault, but some of these other people shouldn't be jumping on him the way they do.

"I don't remember what he said, it was in his first year with the Giants [1993]. We had sat in the box with [Giants owner] Peter Magowan and his son. We went to the house after the game. I don't remember what happened in the game, but he did an interview and I remember telling him, 'Barry, why do you have to say something like that?'

"He said, 'I don't care. That's the way I feel. I don't care.' I said, 'Joe Montana is retired. This could be your city.' He said, 'I've got to do what I've got to do and I can't worry about what other people think and what they feel.'

"He wore a lot of things, he still wears a lot of things, on his sleeve. That was the only time since he's been in professional baseball that I said to him, 'Why do you do that? Don't say anything, or spin it or talk about something you want to talk about. You're going to own this town because of the player you are, but you could own it even more.' "

Fenway reunion
Leary, in town this week to work with Pawtucket and the Single A Lowell Spinners, plans to see Bonds on the field tonight before the Giants play the Sox. Bobby McKercher hopes they'll be able to pose for a picture together. They don't know whether they'll get to see Bonds afterward; his wife, Liz, is coming in. When Leary sent a text message to Bonds asking him if he might be free, Bonds replied, "Hit me when I get there." Maybe others would have been put off by that response. Leary and McKercher thought it was funny. Typical Barry.

If they do get together, McKercher promised, it will be "a real ragfest." That could also happen the day Bonds is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Both Leary and McKercher vow to be there.

Leary: "I want a personalized invitation, Barry."

McKercher: "I want a suite overlooking the lake."

Leary: "I want a limo ride from the airport."

McKercher: "I'm not giving you an appearance fee to hang out with us."

Leary: "I want to give the speech, though."

And Judith Leary wants a new diving board.

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