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Giants slugger Barry Bonds’ record 73rd home run ball bounced Thursday in court between the “rules of civilized society” and accepted ballpark “fan culture.” Attorneys for the two men who claim ownership of the ball told San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy in opening statements that he must choose between the two approaches in deciding whose ball it is. At stake is a baseball with an estimated value of at least $1 million that both Berkeley restaurateur Alex Popov and Silicon Valley products engineer Patrick Hayashi claim as their own. Bonds set the new major-league record for home runs in a season on Oct. 7, 2001, when he smashed the ball into the right field arcade at Pacific Bell Park. Television videotape played at the court trial showed the white ball fall and lodge in Popov’s glove’s webbing. But he soon disappears into a crowd and Hayashi emerges with it and a wide smile. McCarthy asked to see the videotape twice but did not comment on its content. Testimony from witnesses is scheduled to continue today, though the parties plan to meet this morning with San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer for another shot at mediation. They met earlier this week with Kramer and also met with another judge and a mediator from JAMS. Barring a resolution from Kramer, the trial before McCarthy is expected to last a couple of weeks. Popov, 38, claims Hayashi, 37, stole the ball from him during a ferocious scrum, where more than a dozen other fans piled on hoping to grab it for themselves. The judge, who is not a big baseball fan, must decide if the simple act of catching the ball for a second or two qualifies as ownership or if clutching it after a pileup of crazed humans legally makes one an owner. A key dispute remains over the interpretation of what Popov meant when he saw Hayashi holding the ball and said: “You’ve got it. Yeah! Dude.” Martin Triano, plaintiff Popov’s attorney, said his client wanted the ball returned to him. His words were more a demand than an exclamation. Michael Lee, attorney for defendant Hayashi, said Popov’s words were more a congratulation. “You would not expect [those words] from a victim to his alleged robber,” the attorney said. Triano said proper decorum and prescribed behavior must exist in baseball as it does in everyday life. “Alex believes that it is the rules of civilized society that govern the conduct of the fans in the stands,” Triano said, “not the law of the jungle.” Lee told the judge that by wandering into the arcade to catch the ball Popov consented to be part of the melee. “Nevertheless, in his zeal to commandeer the Barry Bonds home run ball, Alex Popov is suddenly critical of the ‘fan culture’ that he was once so much a part of,” Lee said. “Popov asks the court to now change the rules for him and adopt a radical and extremist definition of the term ‘catch’ that would fundamentally alter what has been happening in ballparks throughout America for over 70 years,” he said. Lee argued that baseball’s “fan culture” holds that a home run or foul ball is “fair game” and should be awarded to whomever controls it. Otherwise, he said, “the scope and number of disputes over balls hit into the stands will become epidemic, and we are going to need a night court judge in every section of every ballpark in America.” Triano tried to evoke the sentimental virtues of America’s favorite pastime. “It’s about kids, big and little, who come to the park with their gloves and a dream of catching a ball.” He said his client was an adult with the same hope and had positioned himself in the arcade where he thought Bonds would hit his record-setting homer. Picking up Popov’s glove from the plaintiff’s table, Triano slipped it on his left hand and pounded his right fist in the pocket, then reached up to show how a catch is made. “Alex caught the ball and the whole world seemed to descend on him,” the attorney said. “He realized people were trying to take the ball from him.” But when the mass of humanity fell to the pavement, somehow the ball slipped out of the glove. Hayashi claimed it rolled in front of him, while he was under the pile, and he picked it up. Triano argued his client was the victim of mayhem. “He was assaulted and battered by as many as 15 people, including Mr. Hayashi,” the lawyer alleged. Triano said he has 12 witnesses, whom he called “good Samaritans,” who will testify that they saw Popov “catch and control number 73.” Lee said Hayashi came up with the ball fairly and never grabbed, struck or bit Popov during the struggle for the ball. “It all came down to luck,” the lawyer said. “Patrick Hayashi was at the right place at the right time.”

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