The way he awkwardly stuck his chubby fingers into his eyes, it could have been old remnants of infield dirt.
He would poke in, pull out, flick something to the ground, again and again.
It wasn't until Jeff Kent raised his head that everyone realized those eyes were filled not with the tough guy, but the real guy.
No dirt, just tears.
On his way out the door, the most unbreakable man in the room finally broke.
In announcing his retirement Thursday, Jeff Kent finally showed the passion that he spent 17 years hiding underneath an icy veneer that won many games but few friends.
"I'm tired . . . my time is over . . . thank you," he said in a choked voice at the end of a rambling retirement speech at Dodger Stadium.
Kent began softly weeping during a video of his accomplishments, and stopped several times to compose himself during the ensuing tear-stained speech and news conference.
He cried when talking about the Dodgers uniform, cried when talking about his family, sincerely thanked reporters for their questions, and even explained the last unexplainable thing in his career.
"My dad was a police officer . . . hence, the mustache," he said, smiling below reddened eyes. "A reminder of where I came from."
So there was a heart in there after all.
Saying hello just in time to say goodbye.
"I hope it's not a bad thing," he said of his emotion.
It's a sad thing, knowing now that he could have perhaps used some of this passion to have more impact as a leader.
It's a frustrating thing, to think of all those years that teammates and fans never really knew him.
But, in the end, perhaps, it's an understandable thing, a man doing what he felt was necessary to stay tough in a game where six months of nightly public pressures can tear at even the strongest of souls.
"Jeff felt when he let his guard down, he lost his edge," said his wife, Dana.
On Thursday, after 351 career homers, most ever for a second baseman, that guard came down.
Finally, after one most-valuable-player award and five All-Star appearances and enough other numbers that should make him a first-ballot Hall of Fame lock, he forgot about the edge.
He spoke of the importance of staying emotionally detached from a difficult sport that would have swallowed him otherwise.
"How can you deal with emotions when you fail every day, three out of four times?" he said.
He spoke of his confrontations with everyone from Barry Bonds to Milton Bradley to Dodgers rookies as being part of a plan to sacrifice himself for the sake of the clubhouse.
"The run-ins I might have had with teammates or some of the media, almost everything I did, I did purposely," he said. "The game was bigger than me. I don't care what happened to me."
He said that his perceived toughness on teammates was just his way of injecting a respect for the game.
"I guess, to a fault, I've never wanted or never allowed anyone around me to have less of a respect, or a less of an appreciation for the game," Kent said. "At times, that got me in trouble, but that got me to the playoffs for half of my career."
He didn't talk about any of this easily, of course. He didn't even want to fly back for the news conference. He only did so at the request of the Dodgers, and the pleading of his agent, Jeff Klein.
When I asked him if any of this was his idea, it was the only time of the day he elicited his trademark scoff.
"Bill, can you see me wanting to come back to talk to you?" he said. "That's the answer to your question right there."
It was a startlingly honest news conference throughout, from Kent's demeanor to the number of current teammates who went out of their way to attend.
Jose Vizcaino, a former Kent double-play partner who works in the Dodgers' front office, was there along with a couple of Dodgers youngsters who played with Kent last year. But they were involved in a Dodgers prospect seminar and would have been at Dodger Stadium anyway.
It was a last-minute gathering, but ballplayers have last-minute money, and it was too bad that none of them could have taken the time to show up.
Very fitting, but too bad.
"Jeff never cared what other people think," said Dana Kent. "He doesn't spoon-feed anybody."
Kent pointed to his seven playoff seasons and said he regretted nothing.
"Over 17 years, some didn't get it, that's OK, sometimes I didn't get it either," he said. "I absolutely have no regrets in the way I carried myself in my communication with my teammates."
His one misgiving, he later admitted, was that perhaps he wasn't tough enough on one teammate.
Kent will forever believe that after his San Francisco Giants blew the five-run lead in the last three innings of Game 6 of the 2002 World Series against the Angels, he should have fought Barry Bonds.
"Cold-cocked him? Yeah, that's true," he said. "After that game, it was the quietest locker room ever, you could even hear guys' belts hitting the floor. If I had fought Barry, I could have gotten the focus off losing, and we could have been better prepared for Game 7."