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Trouble as a Prep Doesn't Slow Kent's Rise to Majors : Baseball: Former Edison infielder, who overcame difficult senior season, gets a quick call from Blue Jays.

July 22, 1992|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kent said La Ruffa wanted him to be an emotional leader. But several players, unhappy with the coach for various reasons, wanted Kent, as the team's high-ranking player, to voice their gripes.

Kent tried to do both, and it got him in trouble. His teammates were in no mood to get fired up. And his coach was in no mood to listen to Kent's complaints. A 2-5 start in league play only compounded matters, which hit the boiling point on a Friday in April.

La Ruffa moved Kent, a three-year starter at shortstop, to second base the day of a game, and Kent was visibly upset about the move during infield practice. That got him benched for the game.

"He wanted to take me off my pedestal," Kent said. "He didn't even tell me I was going to play second, he just moved me. He didn't think I had a positive attitude."

The following Monday, La Ruffa, who now coaches at Fountain Valley, asked Kent to turn in his uniform. Kent drove home, got the uniform and gave it to the coach.

"It was tough because in a way, I felt I was quitting, because I thought that might be my last year," Kent said. "But I was just quitting that style. I was 18 and needed to take a stand."

At the time, La Ruffa said Kent had an attitude problem. "It was a bad case of senioritis," he said. "We just couldn't come to an agreement on what was expected of him and what he expected."

La Ruffa said he and Kent have since "buried the hatchet," but it's not as if La Ruffa is on Kent's pass list when the Blue Jays come to Anaheim.

"We don't play golf together or shoot the (breeze), but we're not enemies," Kent said. "I feel I was right in that situation, but there's nothing I can do about it."

Kent wasn't drafted out of high school, and he hadn't signed with Cal when he got kicked off the team, but he played American Legion and Connie Mack League baseball that summer and earned a college scholarship.

He said he never had any problems with the coaching staff at Cal and has fit in well in Toronto's clubhouse.

"Playing with Dave Winfield, Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Kelly Gruber. . . . To be part of this team and have them accept me is a bigger thrill than going out on the field," Kent said. "They help me, pat me on the back, answer my stupid questions. I really feel like I'm part of this team."

He wasn't part of Edison's team for his entire senior season, but Kent's problems that year didn't stunt his progress. Or La Ruffa's, for that matter.

"He's having a great career, and so am I," Kent said. "We're both smiling, so what can you say?"

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