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MIAMI _ Thee armor is on. The best baseball player of this generation has put on his jersey, put in his earring and put up his shield. So when you ask Barry Bonds about the perception of him as a jerk, his response comes slamming down before you like metal bars.
``I don't care, man,'' Bonds says, then pronounces each word slowly. ``I ... DO ... NOT ... CARE.''
This is reflex, of course. It's just like ducking or flinching or any of the other things people do to avoid being hurt. In Bonds' case, it's something else, too. It's a lie.
You don't realize this until an hour into the conversation, when Bonds finally lets you look inside. He tells you how alone he feels sometimes, even in a locker room full of teammates. He tells you about the times crying in hotel rooms, wondering if he should just quit. He tells you the only way he could improve his image is by dying, and it's then that you understand the truth:
Barry Bonds cares, man. He CARES ... VERY ... MUCH.
``I just start laughing,'' Bonds says instinctively when asked how it feels to be ripped in the papers or see ESPN playing his hot-dogging mistake again and again. The thought of a man laughing at national ridicule doesn't sound human, never mind plausible, but Bonds punctuates his point with his index finger.
``You see that light switch over there,'' he says. ``That's me. I turn my emotions on and off. Click. Turn it on. Click. Turn it off. It's like any pain. If you scratch your arm, you can put on a Band-Aid and keep living or you can sit there crying. I …