Kent gets nailed to Wall, nicely, on Saturday
Many observers consider Jeff Kent a Hall of Fame second baseman. But the Giants’ Wall of Fame comes first.
Kent’s achievements as a Giant from 1997-2002 will be celebrated Saturday when his Wall of Fame plaque is unveiled along the King Street sidewalk outside of AT&T Park. The ceremony begins at 3 p.m.
Kent, who spoke at length on various topics during a conference call Monday, met with reporters Friday afternoon in the Giants’ dugout and said that he’s “kind of in awe” of the honor, which is reserved for players who spent at least nine seasons with San Francisco or made at least one All-Star team during a minimum Giants tenure of five years.
Kent, 41, retired after last season with a .290 batting average, 377 home runs and 1,518 RBIs in 17 big league campaigns. He averaged .297, 29 homers and 112 RBIs per year with the Giants, winning the National League Most Valuable Player award in 2000 and exceeding 100 RBIs each season.
The 41-year-old Kent lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, Dana, and their four children. He has kept busy with the three motorcycle shops that he owns and a golf course he’s involved with, when he’s not driving kids to and from school.
Kent had a reputation for being sometimes abrasive with the media, but now that he no longer dwells on the rigors of competition, he has been more than accommodating as his Wall of Fame day has approached. Since we’re happy to let Kent speak freely as long as he wants, here’s the bulk of his comments Friday, presented verbatim (with some comments deleted for relevance or simplicity) and preceded by the respective questions.
The big day is here; are you more excited? When you spoke Monday seemed genuinely emotional and excited.
I am. I’ve spent my time just relaxing and staying away from the game since I retired, and that’s been special in itself — trying to let my body heal up and my mind relax. And I guess going through a time of do I have some anxiety about being away from the game. So I really wanted to stay away from it and I don’t have any regrets about leaving. With that being said, you’re able to push away the game and now move on to a new phase. The new phase is trying to revisit some of the great moments and great places where I played and obviously, this one being the greatest of all places I ever played and the most emotional place that I ever played was here in San Francisco. I’ll be honored with my ugly mug on the wall. Hopefully they have the mustache on there, too.
It’s really going to be cool. I have my wife and kids here, and my [youngest] boy turns six tomorrow and the only thing he wants to do is go in the locker room. So there’s a major attachment I have to the game and I’m glad that it’s going to exist here in San Francisco.
… This is the first time I’ve actually set foot [at AT&T Park], not wearing any type of baseball paraphernalia and walking through the halls thinking, “Yeah, I can still play,” knowing that’s not me speaking. it’s just the emotional attachment of knowing that this was the greatest place I ever played.
Have you seen the other plaques to get a perspective of who you’ll be joining?
… I’m kind of taking this all in with my family. They made the sacrifices, too. I went to Cooperstown a month or so ago to play in the Hall of Fame Game and I purposely didn’t do the VIP tour of the Hall of Fame museum because I wanted to share that with my family. We’re going to go back on our RV trip; we’ve got about three years of what we want to do mapped out. … That’s going to be absolutely neat because my kids bring me into the history of the game more than I did. I was never really a big historian of the game. … Being able to walk through those and read them and tell my kids that I took advice from that guy or played with this guy or this guy was really good and this guy was a pain in the butt — it’s going to be neat to share that.
Have you paused to reflect on your spot as a second baseman in this game during this time?
A little bit. Not much. I’ve been so involved in my businesses and driving the kids to school, I haven’t really sat back. This is the start. This event, this weekend, is the start. My retirement speech, I got emotionally involved, it was like a thousand pounds lifted from my shoulders when I said I’m done. Tomorrow will be more emotional, too, but I think it’ll be more happy and grateful than emotional. This is the start of trying to figure out where I fit in. But I’m not so worried about it. Because I’m a baseball player. I played the game. Everything else, I didn’t care about much. … The awards, the pats on the back, the articles, the stats, they don’t hold a lot of weight for me.
The fans gave you a hard time when you came back with the Dodgers. What do you think it’ll be like tomorrow?
I don’t know. I don’t have any clue. I know they’re bitter at me because I was a Dodger, and they should be. I was a little hesitant to walk on the field (because) my first day as a Dodger was here in San Francisco on Opening Day (2005). That was the loudest boo I think I ever heard. And I say that laughingly because I respected it. And it was actually, for me, a sign of appreciation. … Tomorrow, I don’t know. I’m nervous. Because of the love that I have for the fans and the respect I have for the fans. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. But I guarantee that however it plays out tomorrow, it’ll have no effect on the appreciation I had playing for these fans. The times they came out at Candlestick [in] the wind and cold weather, and then opening the ballpark here and seeing 50,000 people coming out every day … I hope they can understand the respect that I have for them, at least. If they still hate me for being a Dodger, I hope they do. Because that means that they’re a good Giants fan.
(Pointing over his shoulder at the diamond) … I hope that the fans really do understand and appreciate the fact that I have blood, sweat and tears left on that field. It’s out there, more so here than any other place I played. I think these people understand that.
Many athletes, once they leave, have an appreciation for the sport and the experience that you can almost get only in retrospect. Is that something that you would advise a younger player to have more mindfulness about?
I kind of define your question (as), if I had to do it over again, would I enjoy more of the game when I was a player or would I think more of other things as a player than I did? If that’s your question, I would say, I thought about those things. But I didn’t know if I were to be more of this over-cordial person, come into my house and let you know everything about me, that would affect my play on the field. I tried to do everything I could to be a baseball player. If I were to tell somebody, you need to be more cordial or enjoy the experience more, I might be jeopardizing their play on the field. … I was purposely not that cordial and open. I really was in my house. This is my house.
Do you remember the sound during Game 5 of the 2002 World Series, when you guys were pouring it on?One of the happiest times of my whole life.
Now that I hear that they booed Manny [Ramirez] as bad or worse than they booed me, maybe I have a leg up on him.
– Chris Haft