Is he quietly sitting alone because he is a calming, veteran presence amid a sea of promising young talent? Or is he simply above it all? Is he left undisturbed out of respect, because of all he has accomplished in this game and his status as an almost certain Hall of Famer? Or has his notorious and well-chronicled aloofness simply left him without many friends on this team? Is he reading about motorcycles in the middle of a baseball clubhouse because it allows him to clear his mind of the pressures, gives him a momentary escape from the grind of being not only a big-league ballplayer but also the centerpiece of a lineup that relies far too heavily on him for its power production? Or is it simply because when it comes to baseball, he is dispassionate, refusing to be consumed by a business that can be so all-consuming? The correct answer to all that, of course, is none of the above. The answer is that there are no correct answers, that no matter how much a few spurned autograph seekers and brushed-aside sportswriters and ignored teammates might want to stick definitive labels on him, those labels never seem to disrupt the fact that this guy is completely, unshakably comfortable in his own skin. Kent, a five-time All-Star and the most prolific power-hitting second baseman of all-time, prides himself on a lot of things. Things like his professionalism, and the fact that unlike his antagonist Barry Bonds, he has never been suspected of screwing around with the game’s integrity. But mostly, the most misunderstood man on this Dodgers team and possibly in all of baseball prides himself on, well, being misunderstood. “In the 15-plus years that I have played this game, I have had some good years and some bad years, both professionally and personally,” Kent says a few minutes later, when someone dares to invade his insular world. “My game has changed over the years, and so has my personality. But I’m fully marinated now. Whatever my legacy is, that’s something I can’t control. If you ask one person, you’ll get one answer. If you ask another person, you’ll probably get a different answer.” And if that one person you ask is Kent himself? “Probably a couple of things,” he will tell you. “One is that I never cheated at the game, ever. And the other is that I did my job, and I did it right. I made no excuses. My mom and dad taught me that if you do a job, do it right. Don’t do it half(way).” Any other questions? Brian Sabean and Ned Colletti had a few. That was back in the fall of 1996, when Sabean, the general manager of the San Francisco Giants, and Colletti, then his top assistant and now the Dodgers general manager, were considering trading longtime Bay Area fan favorite Matt Williams to Cleveland. The key player coming back would be Kent, an infielder long on potential who hadn’t quite measured up to it yet. Kent was in his late 20s and already had been with threedifferent clubs. The due diligence of Sabean and Colletti included a phone call to Dallas Green, who had managed Kent in New York before the Mets had traded him to the Indians at the previous season’s trading deadline. “Dallas told me if we were looking for a social butterfly, somebody to stand on tables and be rah-rah and take everybody to dinner, we should look somewhere else,” said Colletti. “But he said if we were looking for somebody who would play this game hard day in and day out, who would always strive to be better, who would lead by example, who would be bitter in defeat and would try every single day to figure out how to win a ball game, then this was our guy.” Kent would do a six-year stint with the Giants, all of it under the triumvirate of Sabean, Colletti and manager Dusty Baker – and almost all of it while doing battle with Bonds, the strangest of strange bedfellows. The twowould get into a televised shoving match in the dugout in San Diego, and there would be countless other sources of disagreement. Kent, the no-nonsense scrapper who had little use for fanfare, and Bonds, who became the game’s most marketable star even as he was becoming its most reviled, were a volatile mix. So volatile, in fact, that they made each other – and the Giants – better. “They were one of the greatest combinations of the last 15 years in baseball,” Colletti said. “The Kent-Bonds relationship, what it did for both players, I think they fed off each other. I told Brian when Kent won the Most Valuable Player award in 2000 and Bonds finished second, that it was the best thing that could have happened to our organization.” The next season, Bonds hit a record 73 home runs. The season after that, the Giants reached the World Series, losing to the Angels in sevengames. And the season after that, Kent, apparently fed up with his more celebrated teammate and what he reportedly perceived as favoritism toward Bonds on the part of Giants ownership, accepted a two-year contract from Houston. By the time Colletti was hired to run the Dodgers in the fall of 2005, Kent already was here. But it was Colletti who decided, just before the team broke camp last spring, to sign Kent to a contract extension. The $11.5 million deal includes what amounts to, if Kent stays healthy this year, a mutual option for 2008. As to whether there will be a 2008, Kent says he hasn’t decided. But he came to spring training with a noticeably different demeanor. He says it’s a product of wanting so badly to make up for what he felt was a lost season in 2006, when wrist and oblique injuries limited him to his lowest home-run total (14) in a decade. He already has laid a solid, post-baseball foundation for himself and his family, investing some of the millions he has earned on the diamond into two (soon-to-be-three) motorcycle/watercraft dealerships back home in Texas. Whenever he does decide to retire from baseball, he says he has no intention of staying in the game, at least not for now. Kent knows there are many opinions floating around about him, and he also knows it is way too late to change most of them. But he operates on the belief that he is answerable only to his family, his teammates and the organization for which he plays. Everyone else knows what they can do with those opinions. “I have been criticized for being quiet, moody, selfish, arrogant, just a ton of things,” Kent said. “But I don’t think any of that has been detrimental to my game. I think everyone in this clubhouse should be arrogant and cocky and confident. It’s just another aspect of what a ballplayer should be.” email@example.com (818) 713-3675160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! VERO BEACH, Fla. – It was a little past noon, and the Dodgers’ spring-training clubhouse was bustling. A handful of players were still trickling in from the back fields, but most already were well into their showers or their lunches or whatever they happened to be watching on the various televisions hanging from the ceiling. Meanwhile, the enigma silently sat in front of his corner locker, several yards removed from human contact. His uniform having long since been shed and tossed into a nearby laundry bin, the team-issued blue-and-white T-shirt and blue shorts he was wearing were now the only telltale signs of what he does for a living. His legs were crossed, his head was bowed, and the trademark motorcycle magazine resting on his lap was open to a page he found far more interesting than anything going on in the room. This was Jeff Kent at his most comfortable. He was two weeks shy of his 39th birthday and possibly fiveweeks shy of kicking off his final six months as a professional baseball player. And he was doing everything he possibly could to provide the ultimate study in contrasts.