While growing up in sunny Bellflower, Calif., Jeff Kent fulfilled his passion for outdoor adventure by surfing, dirt biking and playing baseball. However, no one sport took precedence over the other until Kent and his father shook hands to seal a bet - if Kent earned a college scholarship, his father would buy him a truck.
With his hitting prowess, Kent knew that baseball would help pay his way into college and win him the bet. But what he didn't know was that he would continue playing baseball well beyond his college years.
Three years after receiving the keys to a new truck and a baseball scholarship to the University of California in Berkeley, Kent was drafted into the major leagues in 1989 by the Toronto Blue Jays. For the next 17 years of his Major League Baseball (MLB) career as a second baseman, Kent proudly wore the uniforms of an additional four reputable teams - the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers. His seasons with each team earned him numerous awards, including four Silver Sluggers, five All-Stars and a National League Most Valuable Player. In addition to these elite awards, the right-handed batter and thrower holds the record as the all-time leader in home runs for a second baseman.
Kent retired from the MLB in 2008 and has since pursued other endeavors. For example, last year he honed in on his baseball reporting skills and became a sports commentator for the 2009 American Legion Baseball World Series in Fargo, N.D. His lively commentary was such a great addition to the game that he will once again be a voice for fans to listen to during the 2010 Legion World Series in Spokane, Wash.
While Kent prepares for his commentator role in August, The American Legion caught up with him to discuss his playing days.
Q: Did you have a special saying or routine to get you motivated before every game?A: If you can believe it, a power nap for me was the routine that I utilized to bring my level of concentration to its best level. The calming peace and quiet focus after a short shut-eye was the best game prep for me.
Q: Why did you take pride in your defensive over offensive play?A: I was always stereotyped throughout my career for being slow because of my size. I guess my entire career I tried to beat that label, unjustly placed upon me, and defense was where a player needed to be the quickest on his feet to make all the plays.
Q: You are an all-time leader in home runs as a second baseman. What do you attribute your success to?A: You can never substitute for hard work. I took pride in keeping myself in the best physical shape I could be in, which allowed me to play for 17 years.
Q: Looking back on your professional career, do you have a favorite moment?A: It would be my 2002 season with the San Francisco Giants in game five of the World Series. We had just beaten the Angels in game five of the series at home, and the feeling at that moment was my most positive memory of my career. Little did I know that a few days later I would experience my greatest low when the Angels went on to beat us in game seven.
Q: What did you enjoy last year during The American Legion World Series that you look forward to this year?A: The kids playing with heart was the most impressive for me. Their skills are developing, but without playing with passion and intensity, it can be an empty game. I'm looking forward to seeing what matters to me in the game, and that's playing with your head and heart.
Q: What encouraging words do you have for Legion Baseball players who aspire to play professionally?A: American Legion Baseball was a stepping stone in my career, and I am thankful for it. Every opportunity a baseball player gets to develop his talent, it should be taken. Never forget that there is no shortcut to success. It takes desire, determination and a dedication to not allow anything to get in the way of that success. Good Luck.