By MARGIE MASON
Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO - Joseph Figone will be crouched in his kayak just beyond the right-field fence at Pacific Bell Park this weekend, armed with a paddle and a fishing net in hopes of grabbing a pricey bit of history.
He'll be among the hundreds of boaters, canoeists and surfers waiting for the hush, then the roar of a packed Giants crowd. He'll watch the sky, hoping a record-breaking Barry Bonds homer splashes down in San Francisco Bay.
As the Giants begin a three-game series Friday night against the San Diego Padres, Bonds is within four homers of breaking Mark McGwire's season record of 70 set in 1998. Several of his homers this year have landed in the body of water nicknamed McCovey Cove, in honor of former Giants slugger Willie McCovey.
Figone, a former Candlestick Park groundskeeper, snagged the first ball hit out of Pacific Bell Park into the bay during the regular season and also captured Bonds' 500th career homer from the murky water earlier year.
"I don't know what's going to happen. I'm not going to jinx myself - only God knows where it's going to go," Figone says. "A lot of people expect me to get it, and hope I'll get it."
If Bonds breaks the record, auction house officials say No. 71 may not even be the most valuable ball to catch. As with McGwire's 70th, it's the final home run ball of the season that could fetch the most money.
Regardless of who retrieves Bonds' final homer of the season, sports memorabilia experts say its value will be far less than the $3.05 million paid by collector Todd McFarlane for the ball from McGwire's 70th homer.
Some estimates have placed the value of Bonds' final record-setter as high as $4 million. But auction house officials estimate the ball from Bonds' final homer this season will be worth $400,000 to $1 million. The biggest reason it will bring less than McGwire's ball is because it's just too soon.
Baseball fans had waited 37 years for McGwire to shatter Roger Maris' record of 61 homers set in 1961. The record could be broken again just three years later.
But that's doing little to dock the boaters who hope to grab Bonds' 71st.
In the spirit of fairness and safety, no motorized craft will be allowed within 50 feet of the right-field wall. And all craft will be limited to 6 mph.
The San Francisco Port Commission voted to impose such restrictions earlier this season after Figone's motorized inflatable boat nearly collided with a surfer going after No. 500.
"Boaters are more unscrupulous. They may be safe boaters as a rule on the weekend, but if they're going for something worth a million bucks, they may cut a couple of corners," says Michael Nerney, Port of San Francisco spokesman. "It gives the guy on the surfboard as equal a chance as the guy in a motor boat."
Tom Hoynes has missed only about a half-dozen Giants' home games since Pac Bell Park opened two years ago, and says he's practicing maneuvering his kayak as the stakes get higher.
He has the first ball ever hit out of Pac Bell Park into McCovey Cove, but it's worth less because it was hit during an exhibition game. He also has seven other splashdown balls, six of which were smacked into the bay by Bonds.
He says the McCovey Cove crew, including a team of Portuguese water dogs, are as much a part of the game as the thousands seated inside. Fans in the stands sometimes throw "dork" balls into the water just to watch the television cameras zoom in on the action in the water as fans dive in after them.
To avoid later controversy, balls pitched to Bonds starting this week are marked with special symbols that are invisible to the naked eye and do not come off in water.
"I've got a strategy, but I can't give it away," Hoynes says, laughing. "It's largely going to be luck and how physically capable you are. I haven't gone in the water. I'm proud of that."