Hamstring sidetracks Kent's history bid
Vet would be club's first 40-year-old to start Opening Day
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Jeff Kent on Wednesday strained a hamstring, and the Dodgers believe he will be sidelined for only a week, which goes to show how amazing Kent is.
He will turn 40 on Friday. He is preparing for his 17th Major League season, and the Dodgers are counting on him to be their regular second baseman and clean-up hitter at an age when most players are long retired and those who are still active are generally satisfied with bench jobs.
Kent, in fact, is about to embark on something historic. The Dodgers, according to David Smith of Retrosheet.org, have never had a 40-year-old position player in their Opening Day lineup in Los Angeles. There's no record of one in Brooklyn, either.
But they intend to have Kent, who is coming off another productive season in which he batted .302 and led the club with 20 homers. Add that to a Hall of Fame resume, with more home runs than any second baseman in history.
Defensively, Kent has lost range over the years, but he's sure-handed on balls he gets to, he's efficient turning double plays and as Bobby Knight would say, he's forgotten more about the game than most players will ever know.
"This game is physical, but you can play better if you play with your mind too," Kent said last week. "You don't need to be the best athlete to be the best player."
Nonetheless, Father Time is undefeated. What if he catches up to Kent this year? What will the Dodgers do if they lose Kent for any extended time?
Manager Joe Torre on Wednesday said that rookie Tony Abreu "would be one," an interesting option in that Torre hasn't seen Abreu in even one official exhibition game this spring because of lingering effects from Abreu's October sports hernia surgery. Torre said Abreu would play this weekend.
Torre also said he wouldn't hesitate using rookie Delwyn Young at second base. Young is a pure hitter, out of options and now an outfielder, but he was asked this spring to resume taking grounders at his former position to expand his versatility.
Kent's current hamstring trouble is the kind of injury 40-year-olds suffer -- a result of a drenching rain that left Tradition Field unavailable for batting practice. The Dodgers instead took it at Dodgertown, then bussed the 40 minutes to their game with the Mets. Kent came off the bus and tried to get loose, but felt the hamstring grab during pregame sprints and was a late scratch from the lineup.
"Bad luck and circumstances contributed to it," said Torre. "He didn't think it was too bad."
Kent tends to have a pretty good read on his body. He has kept it in playing shape, he said, through a combination of hard work and good habits, not counting the doughnuts and oatmeal raisin cookies.
"I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't dip [chewing tobacco]," Kent said. "I take care of myself, and I've been blessed with physical and spiritual health. I got my work ethic from my dad, who was a policeman, and my mom's guidance through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I live righteously and have many blessings."
Kent takes pride in having lasted this long and doing it at a level high enough that a club would expect him to play every day and bat fourth.
"I really don't care that I'm 40," Kent said. "People talk about my age all the time. I don't care. I embrace it. I'm out there trying to out-do, out-think, out-play the 25-year-olds. It's a challenge. I don't want to be second-best. If you do a job, do it right. Don't do it half way."
Keeping it going as long as Kent has is rare.
"It's a desire, a will to compete," said third-base coach Larry Bowa, who retired at 39. "Guys who have played as long as Jeff, they have enough money. So, you've got to love the game, got to have the passion. You can see it in his regimen, the way he works."
"To have a career at that level for as long as he has is nothing short of incredible," said 39-year-old teammate Rudy Seanez.
"It tells you he wants to play, and he'll work hard enough to keep playing," said Don Mattingly, who said he retired at age 34 because he tired of being away from his family. "I could have kept playing. But the price was too steep."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.