SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was Barry Bonds all right, only about 35 pounds thinner — along with a 35-inch waistline.
It was Bonds all right, only now a middle-aged man, four months shy of his 50th birthday.
It was Bonds all right, but with a much different disposition — a warm, infectious personality, one rarely seen during his 22-year career.
NIGHTENGALE: Braun not fazed by insults
Bonds put on a San Francisco Giants uniform Monday for the first time in seven years, and he looked and sounded unlike anything we remember.
"I'm the same person, just a different character when I was playing," said Bonds, who recently sold his mansion in the Beverly Park, Calif., and moved back to San Francisco. "Now I've had time to slow down. As you're gone for awhile, you have a tendency to reflect on certain things."
There was no surliness or even a cold-hearted stare when asked if he was ready to pull a Mark McGwire and tearfully admit that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
"I already went to court, and I'll leave it at that," he said referring to the BALCO saga that resulted in him being convicted in April 2011 of obstruction of justice for being evasive during grand jury testimony involving use of performance-enhancing drugs.
BONDS: What to make of his return?
Bonds, who appealed but still served his month-long sentence of home confinement with two years of probation, will spend this week as a Giants spring-training instructor. There is no hidden agenda in his return, he says, and insists he's not using the exposure to influence baseball Hall of Fame voters.
Yet, when asked whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame, he answered without hesitation.
"Without a doubt," he said.
Bonds is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in baseball history, but his ties to doping has him on the outside looking in. His vote total has actually dropped from 36.2% in his first year of eligibility to 34.7% this year.
When a reporter asked for voting guidance, Bonds said, "I think you guys are all adults. I have no advice for you."
Bonds, baseball's all-time home run king, believes he still could have played another year or two. He hit 26 homers with a 1.045 OPS in his final season in 2007, but no one called.
GALLERY: BONDS THROUGH THE YEARS
When asked if he was blackballed, Bonds said: "I don't know. I don't even know what the word means. I'm fine."
It does Bonds no good to carry any bitterness. Not now. He's trying to get back into the good graces of baseball, and perhaps engage in a long-term relationship with the Giants.
It was shrewd for him not to address Biogenesis or talk about New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez's season-long suspension.
"We're friends," Bonds said of Rodriguez. "I respect him as an athlete, and always will. But I will not have a press conference over that."
Bonds didn't want to reminisce about his career or even talk about his home-run record, other than to say it too will be broken. "God will bless somebody else for that," he said.
Bonds instead wants to remember this as the first day of his new baseball life, contemplating whether he wants an active role as a hitting coach one day and determining if he can make a difference.
"I believe Barry will go over there and do a tremendous job," Hank Aaron, who's still widely regarded as the people's home-run champion, told USA TODAY Sports. "I don't care what happened in the past. He's very intelligent, and he'll really help those players.
"If Mark McGwire can have a job as a hitting coach (with the Los Angeles Dodgers), why not Barry?"
Said Bonds, laughing: "I just want to get through these seven days and see if I can do this first. I don't know if I'm good enough."
Bonds spent more time talking to the Giants' coaching staff than the players in batting practice, but he freely interacted with them during their game against the Chicago Cubs. He'd love to challenge their drive, even make them uncomfortable, but realizes it takes time.
"You have to build a relationship first and then see if we go from there," he said. "I have to learn about them, but that won't take me longer than a minute. All you got to is step inside the batting cage, and I'll tell you everything that's going on. Very fast."
The players talked about their excitement to have Bonds in camp but were noticeably reserved. When Bonds popped into the coaches' room at 8:55 a.m. and walked through the clubhouse 25 minutes later carrying a cup of coffee, there was little show of emotion, except for hugs with pitcher Ryan Vogelsong and first baseman Brandon Belt.
Bonds introduced himself to the rest with a firm handshake. Yet, unlike earlier this spring when a Giants' minor leaguer asked All-Star catcher Buster Posey where he played last year, there wasn't a person who wasn't aware of Bonds' identity.
"I'm more nervous at this than when I was playing," Bonds said. "As a player, it was only my mind. Me. I'm a little more nervous being on this side than that side. Hopefully, I can just bring some good value to the ballclub."
Giants right fielder Hunter Pence says he can't wait to pick Bonds' brain. And Posey, who has never said more than hello to Bonds, is eager for a sit-down.
"I'm curious myself to see how he likes it," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Bonds.
There will be no decisions made about Bonds' future employment this week, but most important, he simply wants to feel like he belongs again, reconciling with his passion.
"It's so good to see him back doing what he loves," said his marketing agent, Jeff Bernstein, "and that's being around baseball.
"Nobody should ever have anything they love taken away."
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale