PROVO — One day, while overseeing a summer baseball camp, BYU coach Mike Littlewood noticed a father standing by the first base coaching box.
As he approached the man, Littlewood quickly realized it was Jeff Kent, who played 17 seasons in the Major Leagues and earned MVP honors in 2000 with the San Francisco Giants.
“We started talking,” Littlewood recalled. “He spent the next two days coaching third base.”
Kent’s son, Colton, was one of the participants in the camp, and Colton eventually signed with the Cougars. Colton recently concluded his redshirt freshman season at BYU.
While Jeff Kent didn’t play at BYU, he and his wife, Dana, have sent three children to the school — a daughter, Lauren, a son, Hunter, and now Colton.
“I never in a million years thought that I’d have three at the same college. I was just trying to get one in there,” Jeff said. “It was never in the books for me to go to BYU. BYU was on my radar but it didn’t work out. I ended up going to Cal. To have my son play (at BYU), I’m excited. I love the area. I’ve spent a lot more time in Utah because of my other two kids. Now Colton’s at BYU. I’m really happy for him. He’s in a good place.”
Colton wasn’t recruited by Cal, which was fine by him. He feels right at home in Provo.
“We’re a typical Mormon family,” he said. “My mom didn’t go to BYU, either. When she and my dad started dating, she took the missionary lessons and converted.”
As a player, Jeff Kent ranks among the top-hitting second basemen in MLB history. He is the all-time leader in home runs (377) among players at that position. From 1997 to 2005, Kent drove in 90 or more runs. He was a five-time All-Star and his 560 career doubles ranked in a tie for No. 21 on the all-time doubles list.
What stands out to him about his career?
“Game 7 World Series loser,” Kent said without hesitation.
Does it still eat at him?
“It sure does,” he said.
Kent’s Giants lost the 2002 World Series to the Angels in seven games.
“That was a tough pill to swallow,” he remembered.
A decade earlier, in 1992, when Kent was a rookie with the Toronto Blue Jays, he played behind future Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar and started at third base part of the season.
In September, Kent was traded to the New York Mets, along with a player to be named later, Ryan Thompson, for star pitcher David Cone.
Toronto ended up winning the World Series that year, defeating the Atlanta Braves.
“Cone helped them win the World Series,” Kent said. “I got a World Series ring, but I wasn’t there for it.”
Kent went on to have a remarkable career with the Mets, Cleveland Indians, Giants, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Most of the teams I played on, we went to the playoffs,” he said. “I’m proud that I had some individual success, but more importantly, I’m proud that the teams I played on I helped get to the playoffs. We just didn’t have enough to win it all.”
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While the Kents moved around a lot during Jeff’s playing days, they settled in Austin, Texas, where they now reside. Kent owns the 4,000-acre “Diamond K” cattle ranch and also owns Kent Powersports, a chain of motorcycle and ATV dealerships.
And he relishes being the dad of a college baseball player, and is eager to see how his son’s career unfolds at BYU.
Growing up, Kent’s sons spent time in clubhouses after games, observing and getting to know stars like Barry Bonds, Ellis Burks and J.T. Snow.
“It was cool to see how professional athletes took losing. We see them as guys that are getting paid millions of dollars to do what they love,” Colton recalled. “We see the good parts, not the bad parts. It’s a humbling experience. They all want to win. I do, too. I love winning. Being at the games with my family and watching my dad play was really cool. We got to shag balls in batting practice. I was 10 and they were hitting crazy hard balls at us. The players were nice to us.”
Jeff Kent doesn’t worry about how his son deals with the natural comparisons between them.
“What’s impressive to me about Colton in that respect is, I don’t think he cares,” Jeff said. “He’s such a good kid. He doesn’t shoulder that weight of trying to follow in my footsteps and be like his dad or better than his dad. That’s what is both good and frustrating about Colton — he’s walking his own path. Without the name on the back of his jersey, he’s not a Kent. He’s just Colton.”
Colton's not worried about fulfilling the expectations left by his dad’s legacy.
“For the most part, he’s my dad. He’s going to get me to where I need to be the best he can. He’s going to teach me the things he learned,” he said. “He’s going to push me and make me push myself. There will come a time when he’s not going to push me anymore.
"Yes, I would like to be like him because I love my dad and he’s awesome. I want to be a professional baseball player. Yes, it would be awesome to follow in his footsteps, but those are big shoes to fill. But that’s not how I necessarily look at it. If I look at it like, ‘He’s done this, this and this,’ I don’t know if I can do that. He’s helped me and taught me what he knows. Now it’s my turn to take what I’ve learned and do it.”
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Jeff’s daughter, Lauren, got married last August and graduated from BYU in December. Hunter played on the practice squad of the Cougar basketball team before leaving to serve a mission in Villahermosa, Mexico.
Colton excelled at baseball and Jeff realized Colton could have a future in baseball when he was in high school.
“He was kind of a small kid but he grew in high school. Colton was great riding skateboards, bikes, he picked up riding a motorcycle quick. He could snowboard instantly. He could wakeboard. He always had this overall natural athletic ability,” Jeff said. “You put him on a baseball field and it was easy for him to catch ground balls. He started to work at it harder when he was in high school. I knew he’d play college baseball. Whether or not he’ll play after college baseball, I have no idea. That will be up to him. But I knew he’d be good enough to play college ball.”
Jeff Kent got a reputation for being a fiery competitor during his career. During the 2002 season, between the second and third inning of a loss to the Padres, Kent and Bonds started arguing, which escalated to a physical confrontation. At one point, Bonds shoved Kent into the dugout wall. Bonds ended up belting a three-run homer that inning. Kent hit a home run in the sixth inning.
Jeff said his son has a different temperament than he did as a player.
“Colton is a lot nicer of a guy and a heckuva better teammate than I ever was," Jeff said. "He likes people. I didn’t like people very much when I was younger. I’m a glass half-empty guy. He’s a glass half-full guy."
Athletically, there are similarities and differences between father and son.
"He’s a little bit smaller than I was. I truly believe he’s got more internal skills than I had," Jeff said. "He’s got this talent level that I don’t know that I had at his age. I think I could hit a little bit better than he could but defensively, and he could run faster than I can. He probably has as good an arm as I had. He’s got all the baseball knowledge I had or more.”
The most important thing Colton learned from his dad is cultivating a work ethic.
“The biggest thing he taught me was hard work. That’s what he’s about. If you don’t work hard, he’s not going to be too happy with you. I complain every once in a while and he’s pushing me to do work around the house like pulling weeds or mowing the grass. If I don’t do it right, he sends me right back out to do it again. He’s taught me about hard work. That’s the most valuable thing he’s taught me.”
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Littlewood said Jeff Kent is a pleasure to deal with and doesn’t try to interfere in his son’s career.
“Jeff doesn’t come off like he knows everything. I think he trusts us to put Colton in our system and let him grow and develop. He may try to change his swing when he goes home, I have no idea,” Littlewood said, laughing. “If my dad were Jeff Kent, I’d probably let him do that as well. He just wants what’s best for Colton.
"We’ve had those conversations before. He wants us to treat him like any other kid. Don’t take it easy on him. Knowing Jeff Kent, he’s going to be a little bit harder on him than anybody else. It’s like dealing with any other parent. It’s been great. If you know Jeff, he’s a man of few words until he gets to know you a little bit. He’s an awesome guy.”
Littlewood had never met Jeff Kent until that summer camp but he was one of his favorite players to watch.
“He was a big, strong guy that hit a bunch of home runs,” Littlewood said. “He just had the tenacity and will to win. Those are the types of attitudes we want in our program. If Colton has 10 percent of that part of his dad, that will go a long way with us.”
Jeff hasn’t relaxed too much in retirement. Besides owning the ranch and the motorcycle dealership, he is running a sports complex as well.
“I’m even more busy than ever before. What I’m most proud of now is that we’re building a 150,000-square-foot indoor sports complex out here,” he said. “It’s called Hill Country Indoor. It’s got hard courts and turf fields and family entertainment and sports-specific training, workout center. Hopefully, that will be my claim to fame. I’d like to do more of these projects across the country.”
As if that weren't enough, Kent has been an advocate for using blood tests for HGH in Major League Baseball and has been a spring training instructor for the Giants. And he’s still heavily involved with his alma mater, Cal. He donated $100,000 to raise awareness and help reinstate the Golden Bear baseball program, which was being discontinued to save the school money. And in 2014, he created the Jeff Kent Women Driven Scholarship Endowment, providing a full scholarship each year to a Cal female athlete in perpetuity.
Meanwhile, in the coming years, he plans to be spending a lot more time in Provo, watching Colton play for BYU.
“Colton has the talent of the last name but he plays for his first name,” Jeff said. “I’m totally fine with that. I think that’s great. I’m glad he’s finding his own path.”