Results tagged ‘ Jeff Kent ’

Jeff Kent adds an interesting element to the Hall of Fame conundrum.

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This San Francisco Chronicle article piqued my interest, mainly because it raised some interesting observations about former Blue Jay/Met/Indian/Giant/Astro/Dodger Jeff Kent — a somewhat odd figure whom you could never quite figure out, even when you thought you might actually be close to cracking the code.

The one thing we — reporters who covered him, front offices who employed him, ballplayers who played with him — all knew to be true was that Kent didn’t care what people thought of him. He said what was on his mind, political correctness be darned. In an era where pro athletes are increasingly more diplomatic as they choose their words, Kent was having none of that. If he had an opinion, and you asked him about it, he’d unload.

That characteristic alone might help his Hall of Fame chances later this year, when his name appears on the ballot for the first time. More on that later.

Kent had a few different personas. He was well-known for his complete disinterest in getting close to his teammates on any level, treating them, and his profession, in the same manner as the decision makers in the front office. This was a business, the clubhouse was his office, and his teammates were nothing more than coworkers with whom he had one thing in common: they played baseball for a living.

Before one particular road game in California while he was playing for the Astros, Kent was debating with a teammate on a random topic, and the teammate joked, “Careful. We may not be able to be friends anymore.” Kent shot back, “We’re not friends.” The teammate gave one of those half-laughs, the kind you use when you’re not quite sure how to react. Kent said, again, stone-faced, “No. Really. We are not friends.”

That was just how Jeff Kent was. He wasn’t mean-spirited; he was just blunt, and a little strange. What else was he? An amazingly talented baseball player who had an intolerance for losing and stupidity. He fumed after losses. When games were lost because of mental mistakes, he’d sit at his locker after, silently stewing with such intensity you could practically see the steam coming out of his ears.

That’s also what made Kent so respected. His teammates didn’t get him, but they liked him. They didn’t dare invite him to dinner, ever, but they admired him for his work ethic and absolute disdain for losing. Maybe he wasn’t the guy you’d grab a brewskie with after a day game in Chicago, but he be at the top of anyone’s list as a desired teammate on club with a chance to win a championship.

Kent had another side to him as well, but it was one he mainly liked to keep hidden while he was working. A lot of his weird-guy persona, in my opinion, was simply a ploy to keep people guessing, as well as prevent anyone from getting too close. In truth, he’s a nice guy. Bright. Insightful. Even, at times, gracious. (During one particular conversation when he was scowling and purposely being difficult, I threatened to out him as a nice guy. He laughed, briefly, and then put his “I’m so annoyed by you reporters” steely-gazed face back on.)

After two years of covering him, I really grew to appreciate him, even like him, save for the two or three times I wanted to throw things at him.

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Jeff Kent (right) showed up to all of the Astros’ various pregame ceremonies celebrating top moments from the club’s history he was asked to attend. He was genuinely happy to catch up with old teammates (shown here with Geoff Blum), further suggesting the distant relationships he maintained while an active player were only a small piece of the Kent puzzle.

Anyway, the fact that Kent could not have cared less what anyone thought of him during his career as a ballplayer makes him a somewhat intriguing figure now, for two reasons: he was one of the few players who, while active, railed passionately about his disdain for performance-enhancing drugs, and he’s eligible for election to the Hall of Fame next year.

As cited in the aforementioned San Francisco Chronicle article, Kent lobbied for steroid testing while his union was fighting it and later fought for tests for amphetamines and blood testing for human growth hormone. Kent wasn’t the only one with this stance, but he was certainly one of the few who not only wasn’t afraid to say it out loud, but also invited reporters to ask him about it.

I always wondered why Kent’s outspokenness on the subject didn’t garner more attention. Or Lance Berkman’s, for that matter. Puma also would rail to anyone who wanted to talk about it. He used unique tactics to get his point across, ranging from putting a sign above his locker for reporters at Spring Training that said, “Knee good. Steroids bad” to sticking his arm out and saying, “Here. Take my blood, weekly if you want to.”

Kent’s career stats suggest he will be a Hall candidate worthy of serious consideration. He compiled a .290 batting average with a .356 on-base percentage and 377 home runs over a 17-year career. He was one of a handful of second basemen that in many ways redefined the position that used to be acknowledged more by its defensive importance.

(He’s also the only Major Leaguer in history whose name, if Googled, will appear next to Lisa Welchel in the category of “People also searched for.” So there’s that.)

In a time when Hall of Fame voting has become more controversial than conversational, Kent’s mere presence on the ballot might provide some solace for the voters. While no one can say for sure who did or didn’t use, Kent’s probably as close to a sure thing on the list of players who didn’t. Will that help him? His numbers were great, but maybe not great enough for the voting body to determine he is worthy of the Hall of Fame. Or were they? Will the fact that he presumably played clean in the heart of an era that most feel was anything but help him?

And, as this article states, will the voters have a soft spot, perhaps even an appreciation, for Kent for being on the seemingly “right” side of the PED argument?

While it’s highly unlikely Kent will be voted in his first time on the ballot, it will be interesting to see what kind of percentage he receives. I’m guessing it’ll be significantly higher than a lot of his contemporaries whose stats deem them more worthy candidates for the Hall.

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Where are they now? Updates on Lane, Kent, Ausmus.

A couple of weeks before Constellation Field in Sugar Land burst onto the scene as the venue for the most recent Roger Clemens unretirement, I took a drive down there with a buddy to watch a different Astros alum pitch.

Jason Lane, who caught the final out that clinched the National League pennant in St. Louis in 2005 and played six seasons — as an outfielder — for the Astros from 2002-07, has resurfaced in pro ball as left-handed pitcher for the Independent League Skeeters. With a month left in their season, Lane has emerged as the club’s most productive starter, so much that he was named the Atlantic League’s pitcher of the month in July.

Lane’s decision to try his hand at pitching was purely coincidental. He was playing for the Blue Jays’ Triple-A club in Las Vegas last year and was asked to pitch an inning in a blowout game against the Diamondbacks’ Triple-A team from Reno.

Kevin Towers, the D-backs general manager, was in the stands that night. Towers watched Lane throw one scoreless inning and instructed his scouts to “get the gun on that lefty.” Later, the GM tracked down Lane near the underground batting cages.

“I didn’t know that was you out there,” Towers said. (The two had met briefly in 2007, when Towers, then the Padres’ GM, traded for Lane with about a week left in the season.)

Towers invited Lane to big league Spring Training this year, as a pitcher. Lane was assigned to the D-backs Triple-A team but was released after a couple of months.

Enter Gary Gaetti, the hitting coach for the Astros from 2004-06 and now the Skeeters’ manager. He and Lane had spoken briefly during the offseason and when Gaetti found out Lane was available, he reached out and asked Lane if he wanted to join the team as a starting pitcher.

Lane has made 13 appearances for the Skeeters, 12 as a starter, and has compiled a 3.03 ERA. He’s walked 13 and struck out 58 over 77 1/3 innings.

He’s never pitched in the big leagues, but he came close, once. Had the 18-inning affair between the Astros and Braves in the Game 4 of the Division Series in 2005 stretched to 19, Lane, who pitched in college, was up next.

He would have come in relief of Clemens, who pitched the 16th, 17th and 18th innings.

“(Pitching coach Jim) Hickey told me, ‘Roger’s going to go as long as he can,’ and that I was next in line,” Lane said. “He told me to start playing catch with the ballboy. I was just trying to process what might come.”

That moment never did come, thanks to a game-winning solo homer by Chris Burke.

Still, Lane is hoping that close call doesn’t represent his last opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.

“I remember my first inning in big league camp — the first warmup pitch was the hardest,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘just get it to the catcher.’ Now, I feel more relaxed on the mound than at the plate.”

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Lane resurrecting his career as a pitcher isn’t the strangest story involving an Astros alum this year. Even Clemens’ fourth unretirement at age 50 (which many believe is a precursor to him pitching for the Astros this season) doesn’t take top billing in the category of, “You’re kidding, right?”

No, friends, that honor goes to former second baseman Jeff Kent. If you’re like 98 percent of society that thought Kent was probably the least likely retired ballplayer who would agree to appear on reality TV, you were wrong, wrong, wrong.

The 44-year-old Kent has reportedly signed on to be a cast member for the upcoming season of “Survivor,” Phillippines edition.

The full lineup has yet to be revealed, but we do know of one other participant other than Kent who has committed: actress Lisa Welchel. My money’s on Kent having no idea who she is. It’s probably also safe to assume he’s not familiar with Tootie’s rollerskates or Mrs. Garrett’s high, shrill voice, and has spent no time wondering how a group of seemingly intelligent teenagers spent like eight years in high school.

Welchel played snooty beauty Blair Warner on the hit ’80s TV show “The Facts of Life.” Back then, she (or, at least the character she played) spent a lot of time admiring herself in the mirror and sparring with Jo Polniaczek, the rebellious teen with a sharp tongue and a big heart. Now in her late 40s, Welchel — wife, mother, motivational speaker — appears to be ready to roll up her sleeves and eat bugs next to a five-time Major League All-Star.

Check your local listings.

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Speaking of Astros alums…lest we not forget one Brad Ausmus, who was in town recently to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Flashback Friday.

Ausmus created a bit of a stir when the TV cameras panned on him in the GM booth exchanging pleasantries with Jeff Luhnow. With Brad Mills seemingly on his last legs as the Astros’ manager, it was only natural that Ausmus’ cameo appearance lit up the message boards and blogs.

In truth, the booth meeting wasn’t an interview, and as far as we know, the club hasn’t contacted Ausmus about the open managerial position. For now, the only managing gig Ausmus has on his plate is for the Israeli team that he hopes will qualify for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.


Ausmus insisted this managerial stint is not to be viewed as a first step toward managing in the big leagues.

“I have been asked that many times,” he said. “I’m not looking at this as a stepping stone. This is just something that realistically allowed me to still spend time at home and not have to travel a lot. The tournament itself is probably a week and a half long, including the workout days. The time commitment is relatively minimal compared a Major League Baseball season. It still keeps me involved in baseball and allows me to try something different.”

The qualifying round will take place in Jupiter, Fla. in September. Retired Major Leaguers Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler will serve as player-coaches, but Ausmus has no plans to join them on the field.

“I don’t need people to see me hit again,” he said.

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Ausmus, Bagwell, Biggio, Kent among A-listers headed back to Minute Maid Park in ’12.

Two players who you'll see throwing out ceremonial first pitches this year: Brad Ausmus and Jose Cruuuuuuuuuz.

The Astros’ 18-inning win over the Braves in Game 4 of the NLDS in 2005 still comes up in conversation from time to time, and what people remember best about that game, of course, is the Chris Burke home run that won it almost six hours after the affair started.

Fans might also remember Roger Clemens pitching three brilliant innings of relief. Or that Lance Berkman was lifted for a pinch-runner eight innings earlier. Or that Brandon Backe started the game and wasn’t terribly effective.

But the one key moment that sometimes gets pushed to the side, considering how significant Burke’s home run was, is that the Astros were minutes away from losing that game, if not for one improbable swing of the bat. The two teams were pretty much headed back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5 — until they weren’t, thanks to Brad Ausmus.

The game only continued because Ausmus picked a really, really good time to be very un-Ausmus-like and hit a home run with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the game at 6.

The umpires also picked a really good time to show a complete understanding about the ground rules and the zig-zaggy yellow lines in the outfield that indicated what was a home run and what wasn’t. This was before instant replay, but when the ball smacked against the left-center wall, just above the zig and to the right of the zag, the umpire immediately started twirling his index finger in the air, indicating a home run.

Ausmus will be one of 13 former players who will visit Minute Maid Park this season as a ceremonial first-pitch honoree. His Game 4 heroics are not the reason why, of course. “Officer Brad” was a mainstay behind the plate for 10 of 12 seasons from 1997-2008, missing only two years when he was traded to the Tigers (and subsequently traded back after it became apparent the Mitch Meluskey experiment was a disaster).

Ausmus was Steady Eddie behind the plate, wearing several hats in addition to the one with the Astros star on it. He was a security blanket for the pitchers, an encyclopedia of knowledge while dissecting the tendencies and habits of every hitter in the league, and a no-nonsense field operator who was in complete control at all times. His pitchers knew that, as did whoever was running things from the dugout. His batting average was, well, average, but his value to the team was immeasurable.

On Tuesday, the Astros released complete list of first-pitch pitchers who will appear on “Flashback Fridays.” The team will wear throwback uniforms and celebrate Houston’s fabulous 50-year history every Friday home game in 2012, and the return of former players will only add to the nostalgia that is sure to take over Minute Maid Park throughout the season.

The first ceremonial pitch is on April 10, the actual anniversary of the first Major League game played in Houston. Bob Aspromonte, arguably the most well-known of the original Colt .45s, will have the first pitch honors that day. The rest of the best:

April 10 vs. ATL Bob Aspromonte; 1960s- Colt .45s
April 20 vs. STL Larry Dierker; 1960s-Astros
May 4 vs. LAD Rusty Staub; 1960s-Colt .45s
May 18 vs. TEX Nolan Ryan; 1980s
June 1 vs. CIN J.R. Richard; 1970s
June 22 vs. CLE Joe Morgan; 1960s-Astros
July 6 vs. MIL Jose Cruz; 1970s
July 27 vs. PIT Mike Scott; 1980s
Aug. 10 vs. MIL Jeff Bagwell; 1990s
Aug. 17 vs. ARI Brad Ausmus; 1990s
Aug. 31 vs. CIN Shane Reynolds; 1990s
Sept. 14 vs. PHI Jeff Kent; 2000s
Sept. 21 vs. PIT Craig Biggio; 2000s

Each player will throw a customized Rawlings baseball that features a 24-karat gold leather cover with the Astros 50th anniversary logo.

This group of players combined for 49 All-Star Game appearances, 15 Silver Slugger Awards, 12 Gold Glove Awards, four MVP Awards, two Hall of Fame inductions, one Rookie of the Year Award and one Cy Young Award. The 13 combined for over 18,000 hits and nearly 2,000 home runs. The five pitchers – Dierker, Reynolds, Richard, Ryan and Scott – have over 800 wins and more than 11,000 strikeouts.

The first pitch participants are scheduled to appear at Minute Maid Park in the month during which their playing days are being honored. The appearances of Staub, Ryan and Morgan are scheduled out of order to accommodate their individual travel schedule.

“Flashback Fridays” highlights the rich tradition of the Astros’ former uniforms, some of the most recognizable and iconic in baseball history. In April, the Astros will celebrate the 1960s by wearing the original Colt .45s jersey. The 1960s shooting star jersey, the first Astros jersey ever worn, will be donned in May. The club will celebrate the 1970s and wear the rainbow jerseys in June, the 1980s shoulder rainbow jerseys in July and the 1990s blue and gold star uniforms in August.

Fans can purchase a special Flashback Friday 14-game flex plan, presented by Papa John’s, that guarantees a seat for Opening Day and each Flashback Friday night. This special ticket package also includes a free ticket for a 15th game of their choice.  Plans are available by calling 1-800-ASTROS2 or visiting Astros.com.

In addition to uniforms, “Flashback Fridays” will also feature special ballpark entertainment and fireworks shows themed to each particular decade. Several additional promotions recognizing the 50th anniversary are scheduled throughout the 2012 season, with a complete listing available at www.astros.com.

Meanwhile, enjoy some nostalgic photos of several first pitch honorees:

Jeff Bagwell during 2004 postseason.

Craig Biggio during pregame introductions at the World Series.

Larry Dierker during his uniform number retirement in 2002.

Jeff Kent introduced himself to the Houston fanbase in dramatic fashion, hitting a home run in his first game as an Astro.

Nolan Ryan during a press conference following his 3,509th career strikeout.

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Whoever gets my old seat in the press box better take tender loving care of it.

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I’m not asking for it to be sectioned off by purple velvet rope and declared an Astros shrine (although if you want to, who am I to stop you?), but I do hope whoever snags the area previously known as my press box seat will at least treat it as part of the family. Or, if that’s too much to ask, just appreciate it for what it is/was — the single best vantage point you’ll find at Minute Maid Park.

In my opinion, press box seats were better than Drayton’s comfy seats behind the plate, because when something happened on the field that made you want to roll your eyes and slap your forehead in disgust, it helped being tucked away in the press box, away from the cameras that could otherwise capture you in all of your exasperated glory.

Anyhoo, the dearly departed press box is being renamed the Astros Press Club, and by Opening Day next year, the venue will be fully functional and available to the public. (They’re taking orders now — read more about it here).

press club 2.jpgThis whole redesign thing has made me pretty nostalgic. After all, we’ve witnessed some pretty spectacular moments from those precious press box seats, ranging from historical (first World Series game ever played in Texas) to hysterical (Mike Hampton throwing Brad Ausmus a cookie of a pitch during Ausmus’ last game as an Astro, which Ausmus “muscled” to the first few rows of the Crawford Boxes).

But what moments were the most unforgettable? After doing a mental sweep of the last 11 seasons in this ballpark, two instances stand out to me more than any other.

Jeff Kent’s home run that ended Game 5 of the 2004 NLCS and gave the Astros a 3-2 lead in the series has to be one of the most memorable moments, ever. I just remember thinking how those types of plays in the postseason were so opposite from what we were used to in Houston. Not to knock the franchise, but let’s face it — at the time, the Astros were on their fifth postseason in eight years, and very little had gone right up until then.

So watching Kent throw off his helmet as he approached home plate, hold up his index finger and say to his ecstatic teammates, “One more” was just really awesome.

But even more than that game (or Chris Burke’s 18th inning walkoff the next year), there was only one time, as memory serves, where I actually said out loud, “This is by far the coolest thing I’ve ever watched here.” And that happened while we were watching Lance Berkman lob home run after home run over the Crawford Box seats, over the facade behind the seats, and out of the ballpark during the Home Run Derby during the 2004 All-Star week.

I know it was a meaningless event in terms of standings and playoffs, which really are the only things that ultimately matter to ballplayers. And I would never suggest this was the best moment, or the most impactful. But watching Berkman in such a groove, doing his thing in front of 42,000 screaming hometown fans, was something I’ll never forget. I think it was the second round where he really started going off, and at some point, a few of us in the press box just had to sit back and laugh because of the wonderful absurdity of it all. The baseballs were actually leaving the ballpark, one after another after another after another. For a while, it seemed like Lance was going to be able to sustain that pace until the next morning.

So while it wasn’t as impactful as the postseason clutch home runs or as emotional as Craig Biggio’s 3,000th hit or as entertaining as watching Jimy Williams kick dirt on home plate while jawing with the umps, the 2004 Home Run Derby gets put in a separate category to be filed under Things I’ll Never, Ever Forget.

Now let’s hear from you. Was there one moment at Minute Maid Park that stood out to you more than any other?

That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be the most exciting game, or a game that was historic for one reason or another. Maybe it was the first game you went to with your kids. Or a game where you caught a foul ball. Or a game that Junction Jack laid a big furry kiss on you. Whatever the game, whatever the circumstance…what is your best memory?

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In today’s From the Photo Vault segment, we step back in time to Spring Training 2006, when the Astros hosted a bunch of kids for their Read Across America program. The event takes place on March 2 every year, Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and celebrates the simple joy and importance of kids reading books.

Dr. Seuss is obviously the inspiration behind the program, a notion clearly not lost on Fernando Nieve, Chad Qualls or Steve Sparks.

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 Or Milo.

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Fun day at Minute Maid.

Please indulge me while I wallow in a bit of nostalgia with the pictures I’m posting today. The Astros celebrated their 10th season at Minute Maid Park with a pregame ceremony on Tuesday that brought back some of the most popular players and managers in the last decade, and it was great to see everyone again. I can’t remember the last time I saw Shane Reynolds, who has barely aged since he last pitched for the Astros in 2001. Larry Dierker was there, as was Phil Garner, Jeff Bagwell and the newly-retired Jeff Kent, who is happily living in Austin, running a couple of businesses and hanging out with the family. I wonder how long it will be before he misses baseball. He seems pretty content right now.

First, a couple of news and notes from last night’s game:
* With runners on first and second and nobody out in the ninth inning, Michael Bourn was given the bunt sign from the dugout. Although Bourn initially showed bunt, he ended up swinging away, presumably in an effort to fool the Cubs fielders and slap a single over someone’s head. It didn’t work. Bourn ended up reaching on a fielder’s choice, while Jeff Keppinger was erased at third.

Asked about it after the game, Cecil Cooper confirmed Bourn was instructed to bunt and said, “I have to talk to Michael about that.”

But Cooper also defended his center fielder: “In that situation, a lot of times it is tough to put down a bunt, and guys do have the green light to do something with the ball other than bunt it right. Ii thought it was a pretty good play, he just didn’t quite execute it.”

* The Astros’ 3-2 10th inning win over the Cubs marked the first time in a while the game was not won because of a  Darin Erstad contribution. The Astros’ last walkoff win arrived via a home run by Erstad last Sept. 26, versus the Braves, and the club’s last walkoff win in extra innings occurred on Aug. 2 of last year, versus the Mets. Erstad won that one with a sac fly.

On to the photos…

Geoff Blum and Jeff Kent

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Larry Dierker, wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt.

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Phil Garner, Roy Oswalt

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This was kind of a cool shot — that’s Jeff Kent and Russ Ortiz, who were teammates on the 2002 Giants club that lost to Darin Erstad’s Angels in the World Series. To the left is Shane Reynolds; Bagwell is behind Ortiz. The big guy in the middle is Doug Brocail.  

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Jeff Kent, standing alongside 10-year season ticket holders.

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Kent and Bagwell, and Reynolds (looking down). Who’s that man in the middle? Why, that’s Buck, who works for Dennis Liborio in the Astros’ clubhouse.

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Shane Reynolds.

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Reynolds, Dierker, Kent.

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