Last year, as Bonds chased Babe Ruth for second on the all-time homer list, Bonds was beset by an ongoing federal investigation into whether he committed perjury about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. The stories dovetailed for almost half a season. Bonds hit his 715th homer on May 28 in San Francisco against the Rockies, ending that phase of the situation.Two months later, a federal grand jury empanelled to, in part, investigate Bonds, ended its 18-month term without the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco seeking an indictment against him. A week later, the case was handed to another grand jury, and it is still pending. The stories kept the Giants' clubhouse hopping. Zito, accustomed to the relative tranquility of life across the bay at Network Associates Coliseum, may be in for a rude awakening, as both the chase of Aaron and a looming decision about whether or not to indict reaches a zenith. "If I can take any of that burden off him, I will," Zito said. "I don't know how I would do that. With me being just a few lockers over, maybe [reporters] will come to me instead, knowing I have this media-friendly vibe and I'm right there listening." Bonds and Zito said their relationship started to grow in recent years, when the A's played the Giants during Spring Training, the preseason Bay Bridge Series and Interleague Play. This past offseason, the two worked out at UCLA, with Bonds standing in the batting cage against Zito as he tinkered with his motion and mechanics. "He came out to throw, and I stood there at home plate for him and watched his delivery," Bonds said. "I hung out with his parents. They were there all the time, too. He's young. He has all that energy and stuff." Zito saw the side of Bonds that most people don't: he's funny, glib, intelligent and has a trough of knowledge about the game he plays. Zito, 28, said he understands why Bonds has to protect himself, because he has learned the same lessons. "He doesn't necessarily have to let people see that side," Zito said. "When anybody jokes around and becomes friendly with people, he becomes vulnerable. You definitely want to trust the people you show that side to and know that they're not going to violate that side. So he just plays it safe." So far, so good. It's been a relatively quiet spring for Bonds, who said he'll cover Zito's back, too. "It's a new form of competition having him around here," Bonds said. "You want to do well for the guy."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.