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"When did Bucky Dent die?" asked one of the eight-to-10-year-olds who lounged on the outfield grass beneath pulsing clouds of gnats that had emerged after a thundershower.
"He hasn't died," said Dent, 56. "You're talking to him." (Many kids, Dent later observed, seem to think a person must be deceased to have something named for them.)
"Did you play with
"No," said Dent. "He was a little before my time. But I was the shortstop in a great infield -- (
"How many home runs did you hit?" asked another, a Yankees fan who said he was forced on this day to wear his Little League team's Red Sox uniform because his mom had his New York stuff in the wash.
"I hit 40," said Dent.
"In a season?"
"No. I wasn't really a home run hitter."
Of course, Dent, as the more senior members of Red Sox Nation still impolitely remind him whenever he crosses their paths, was a home run hitter when it mattered most: On Oct. 2, 1978, the Red Sox, who hadn't won the World Series since 1918, faced the Yankees in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park to decide the American League East title. That season the Sox, behind such stars as
Still, in the playoff game, Sox hopes were high in the top of the seventh. Behind a masterly performance by starter
Dent, who'd borrowed one of teammate
Sometimes -- though not too often -- Dent wonders what the intervening 30 years would have been like if he had popped out in that seventh-inning at-bat at Fenway Park. "It's a game of moments," he says. "You look back and go, If I hadn't done that...."
Had he popped out, Dent would still have been a three-time All-Star and the shortstop on the 1977 world champion Yankees. But he likely wouldn't have become a celebrity. He would not have been invited to play a running back in a 1979 TV movie called Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. (A commenter on imdb.com notes that Dent is "excruciating every time he opens his mouth.") He certainly wouldn't be scheduled to appear at 40 events in the New York City area this year.
But had he popped out, much would have turned out the same. Most likely, Dent would still have gone into coaching after he retired in 1984. He began the '85 season managing the Yankees' Class A Fort Lauderdale affiliate and continued coaching through last July, when he was let go as the Cincinnati Reds' bench coach after manager
Dent is also sure he'd still be running his baseball school. He and
Dent and Hoskin built the wall in 1988 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Dent's homer. It cost more than $80,000 to construct and has 8,800 concrete blocks and pilings that extend 30 feet down into the loamy Florida soil so it can withstand hurricane winds. The wall is 235 feet wide, which matches the original, but only 35 feet high, two feet shorter than Fenway's. Those 24 inches would have required additional rebar to bring the wall to code and would have cost an extra $18,000. Says Dent, "It's close enough."
During his coaching days Dent would work only winter sessions at his camp. This is the first summer he's at the school full time, except for trips up to New York for appearances, some of which he does with his close friend Torrez. (The two were teammates on the '77 Yankees.) In the mornings at the camp, Dent tutors young infielders on the proper technique when fielding ground balls and turning double plays, often in the shadow of the camp's Green Monster -- and of its scoreboard, which is painted to appear just as it did just after he hit the shot that shocked New England.
"Aww, man!" exclaimed one of the nine Red Sox lovers, looking up at the wall. "Why does the scoreboard say the Yankees are winning?" Dent grinned. Though some of his students are too young to know it, it's painted that way because it captures the very moment when, three decades ago, Bucky Dent became