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His inner circle stands by Bonds

Embattled slugger inspires loyalty.

SAN FRANCISCO - Barry Bonds has long cloaked himself in the security of an entourage that includes trainers, publicists, a personal videographer, a marketing agent, and various hangers-on.

They could be counted on for the mundane: fetching the slugger snacks and water, or escorting him through the gaggle of media watching him chase Hank Aaron's home run record.

And for more weighty matters, there was Arthur Ting, Bonds' personal surgeon. He would accompany the former San Francisco Giants star and an array of other assistants and advisers to the Balco steroids lab and draw blood for testing.

Despite his often-prickly public persona - to outsiders and even teammates - the 43-year-old home run king has inspired loyalty from some members of his inner circle, who are standing by Bonds as he prepares to make his first appearance in federal court tomorrow.

Bonds is expected to plead not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice.

"He's a good dude who has been in a bad spot," said one of the trainers, Greg Oliver.

Others say Bonds demands undying loyalty from members of the entourage and is quick to ostracize those he sees as doing anything to undermine him. Just last week, Bonds' longtime business attorney, Laura Enos, was ordered to stop talking to the press after she disclosed that Bonds was shopping for a new attorney.

"I'm on thin ice," she said.

Bonds reported his childhood friend and former business partner, Steve Hoskins, to the FBI in 2003 after the two had a falling out over memorabilia sales. Now Hoskins, the best man at Bonds' first wedding and the slugger's former business partner, is expected to be a key witness if the case against Bonds goes to trial.

So is his former longtime girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, who testified before a grand jury that Bonds told her of his steroid use.

Those close to Bonds say he's relying on the advice of his inner circle as he shops for an attorney with extensive federal experience to help him fight the four felony counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice.