Former Yankee hero greets Clemente youngsters; Dent conducts clinic in downtown Jersey City
All of the 250 youngsters collected at the Roberto Clemente Little League complex in downtown Jersey City last week were not even born when Bucky Dent played his last major league baseball game with the Kansas City Royals in 1984. So there was no way that any of the youngsters could have recalled Dent's heyday, when he was the poster boy shortstop for the World Champion New York Yankees in 1977 and 1978, much in the same regard that Derek Jeter is currently held in local circles. In the late 70s, Bucky Dent was one of the fan favorites, especially with the opposite sex. His good looks and high-profile stature made him a natural with Park Avenue advertising executives, not to mention female Yankee fans. But the men liked Dent as well, because he performed mightily in the clutch. After all, it was Dent who hit perhaps the most memorable home run in Yankee history, a three-run shot over the Green Monster in Fenway Park in the historic 1978 one-game playoff that gave the Yankees the American League Eastern Division title over the Red Sox. And it was Dent who went on to manhandle the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1978 World Series, earning Most Valuable Player honors and leading the Yankees to their second straight World Championship. Needless to say, Bucky Dent was one of the most beloved Yankees of all time - and even got a chance to manage the Bronx Bombers for a brief stint after his playing days were done. So the idea that Bucky Dent, the World Series MVP and one-time heartthrob, could actually be in Jersey City, had to excite long-time Yankee fans. Especially those who help run the Roberto Clemente Little League. "To me, it's like having Derek Jeter come here," said Miguel Lugo, the league's president, two weeks ago. "Back then, Bucky Dent was what Jeter is now. We all remember what he meant to the Yankees. It's amazing. I'm living out the dream now that I had as a 12-year-old by having him here. Going back 22 years, I would have died to have Bucky Dent come here." Dent was in Jersey City July 12 to conduct a baseball clinic for the youngsters as part of Fleet Bank's "Play Ball Youth Baseball Clinic" series. Dent, now the bench coach for the Texas Rangers, taught the youngsters some of the proper fundamentals of the game in a three-hour clinic sponsored by Fleet Bank. Three-day tour
Dent had a lot of fun working with the youngsters. He conducted clinics throughout the New York metropolitan area during the three days the major leagues have for the All-Star break. He could have very well been enjoying the respite with his family at his home in Bradenton, Fla., but decided to spend the off-days conducting the clinic. "I think it's great what Fleet's doing, giving these kids the chance to have some instruction," Dent said. "We've been to a number of sites and we had a great turnout everywhere. Being here in New Jersey means a lot to me, because I used to live here [in Wyckoff, when he was with the Yankees] for six years. Dent added, "I think it's important to stress to the young kids the proper fundamentals. They have to understand at an early age that baseball is a game of patience, that you can drop a ball or make an out and get another chance. You want to see kids grow and get better, and a lot of them do." Dent has been the owner and operator of the Bucky Dent Baseball School in Bradenton, Fla., a school that has produced such major leaguers as Hal Morris of the Reds, John Flaherty of the Devil Rays and Jamie Moyer of the Mariners, as well as current Mets backup catcher Todd Pratt. "Even with the older guys, you need fundamentals," Dent said. "You see guys pick up bad habits, and those habits remain with them. I'm constantly trying to break our players with the Rangers of those habits. You'd like to see them learn the right way from the beginning. Clinics like this are a good start." Because of his background with his school, Fleet Bank asked Dent if he would be willing to conduct such clinics with youngsters, even if most of the participants don't know who he is. "They might not know, but their parents do," Dent said. "Some people think I'm dead, so it doesn't bother me if they're not that familiar with me. But their dads definitely remember." Especially that fateful homer on October 1, 1978, when he took a Mike Torrez fastball over the wall in Boston to give the Yankees a pennant. "A lot of people still come up to me all the time and tell me that they remember exactly where they were when I hit that homer," Dent said. "It was a classic game. Ironically, I do a lot of work in Boston in the winter months and those people always harass me about that homer. I really don't mind. Those Yankee teams were the best I ever played for and it was the best time I spent in the major leagues. You don't forget those times." Obviously, neither did the parents of the kids from the Roberto Clemente Little League. They remember what Bucky Dent meant to them as kids growing up. "All the coaches and the parents," Lugo said. "We're getting the chance that we would have loved to have as a kid. It's been a joy." But did the kids really know who Bucky Dent was? They had a crash course because ESPN Classic was showing clips of Dent the week before. "My son will tell you," Lugo said. "He said, 'Hey, Dad, they're showing Bucky's shot.' He was familiar with it." How about the others? "I never knew he was a player," said 12-year-old Alex Cotto. "I thought he was just a coach. But then I got to see his World Series rings from the Yankees and that he actually won the MVP of the World Series. That really inspired us, to have an old-timer like that come to our field." "I was impressed to see him come," said 12-year-old Brian Bustillo. "We had a famous baseball player right here. I got to meet him and got his autograph. It meant a lot to me." As the clinic was winding down, Fordham University coach Dan Gallagher asked the youngsters some trivia questions about Bucky Dent's major league career. And the kids rattled off the answers, one after another. "They must have been schooled beforehand," Dent said. "I was impressed they knew so much." Now, if they only knew that much in baseball.