|Bucky Dent insists son Cody is a better player at 18 than he was, including having good hands, more range, and a better throwing arm. (Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff)|
Like father, Dent hopes to navigate his way to majors
LYNN — Ronnie Pelletier, 71, a crusty, diehard Red Sox fan, slowly reaches for his walking stick when he hears that Bucky “Bleeping’’ Dent is in the house to watch son Cody play shortstop for the North Shore Navigators.
“Where is he sitting?’’ says Pelletier, feigning seriousness. “I’m gonna whack him with my cane.’’
It has been almost 32 years since the former Yankees shortstop hit the three-run homer in the 1978 American League East one-game playoff that helped beat the Red Sox and forever etched his name in infamy around New England.
Despite two Red Sox world championships in the 21st century, the sting from the Dent home run still resonates in Red Sox Nation. It is even felt by the younger Dent’s teammates, none of whom were even born when the light-hitting Dent lifted the Mike Torrez pitch over Fenway’s Green Monster.
“The first day they were joking about Bucky [“Bleeping’’] Dent,’’ says Cody, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Florida who is settling into his first week playing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. “I just laugh along with it. It’s all good humor.’’
When Cody Dent phoned his father to tell him that Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan wanted him to play summer ball here, just 15 miles from Fenway Park, the senior Dent was surprised.
“I texted Sully and said, ‘What are you trying to do, get my son killed?’ ’’ says the three-time All-Star and 1978 World Series MVP.
Bucky Dent, 58, sits in the 11th row behind home plate at Fraser Field. He is wearing sunglasses, a Florida Gators hat that covers his white hair, and a gaudy Yankees 1977 World Series ring. He has been to New England many times over the years as a player, manager, and coach.
He did public relations work for a firm in the Auburn-Worcester area for 12 years.
He says the Boston fans have never gotten ugly with him.
“It’s more like a funny respect thing, they say, ‘Ah, Bucky [Bleeping] Dent, you ruined my life,’ ’’ says Dent.
Dent’s seventh-inning home run erased a 2-0 Sox lead and put the Yankees ahead for good. A Reggie Jackson solo homer provided the 5-4 margin of victory.
But it was Dent’s pop-fly home run — he calls it a line drive — that is remembered because of its shock value.
Dent was batting ninth and had hit only four home runs that season — and just 40 in a 12-year career.
“Actually, I think [former Red Sox manager] Don Zimmer started it,’’ says Dent, of the expletive added to his name. “He’s driving home, he got into the mountains of North Carolina. His wife stopped the car. He got out of the car, walked towards the mountains, and screams. He just had to get it out.’’
Dent says he later got his revenge for the outburst when Zimmer signed as a Yankees coach and Dent was traded to Texas. Zim called him and wanted to rent Dent’s recently remodeled house in New Jersey.
“I said, ‘Nah, Don, I can’t have you spitting tobacco on my white carpet. Nah.’ ’’
Dent finally relented, but then placed pictures of himself hitting the home run with the headline “Sox Dented’’ all around the house.
“I put one behind each door so when he opened the door he’d see it. He got a kick out of that.’’
“I can’t sit still,’’ he says. “I’ve got to move because I get really nervous. Way more nervous than when I played. I’m sitting there in the College World Series and he’s playing third base against Florida State and I’m going, ‘Oh God, he’s 18 years old, there’s 20,000 people in the stands and national TV, and I’m sweating bullets.’ ’’
The younger Dent is met mostly with polite applause, especially after getting two hits. Nobody bothers Bucky, who is seated with his wife, Marianne.
“I heard a couple of people say, ‘That’s Bucky’s son,’ but that was it,’’ says Dent. “For me, he’s here to play baseball. I say don’t worry about all that other stuff.’’
Cody Dent, whose twin sister, Caitlin, plays softball at North Carolina State, is shy, but polite. In his first interview since becoming a Navigator, he looks as if he’d be more comfortable in a dentist’s chair. He says he isn’t concerned about heckling.
“Dad said, ‘Let it go in one ear and out the other.’ If they do, I’ll just learn to get used to it. I won’t let it get to me. It will be an experience and I’ll learn to deal with it.’’
Navigators general manager Peter Delani says he tried to take precautions.
“We were looking for Yankee fans as a host family, but they were hard to come by,’’ he says. “We found him a nice host family. They are aware of his pedigree.’’
When he played in the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, it was familiar turf. His father served as manager for the Triple A Omaha Royals in 2002.
“It was an awesome experience,’’ he says. “I shagged balls there when I was 8.’’
“I didn’t know the story of the one-game playoff until I was 9 or 10,’’ says Cody. “My mom showed me the video. It was awesome.’’
Just prior to the home run, Dent fouled a ball off his foot and was in pain. Torrez, pitching a two-hitter, just stood and watched as the trainer came out.
“Mike and I are really good friends,’’ says Bucky. “He said he didn’t throw any warmup pitches, and he doesn’t know why. Dent hit the next pitch, a hanging slider, into the screen.
But after third baseman Graig Nettles squeezed Carl Yastrzemski’s popup for the final out, Dent was not part of the celebration. He was looking for his Saint Christopher’s medal.
“When the ball went up, all of a sudden I felt like a bug was on my arm. So I looked down and my medal had broken, and the chain had run down my shirt,’’ says Dent. “There’s a picture of everybody, but I’m not in it because as soon as he caught it, I’m looking at the ground to see where my medal is.’’
Dent went into the clubhouse but then returned to the field in his shorts. “I was panicking, like, where is my medal?’’
When he finally got undressed, he found it.
“It had just run down into my pants and it had fallen into my cup.’’
Dent says he enjoys going back to Fenway Park. He’s even sat atop the Green Monster.
“If you would have told me 25 years after I hit my home run that they’d put seats up [there], I’d say you were crazy. I really enjoyed it,’’ he says. “They didn’t bother me. It was more fun stuff.’’
“I never tried to hit one out there,’’ he says.
Bucky Dent says his son is better than he was at that age.
“He’s got really good hands. He’s a good defensive player, he’s got more range, a better throwing arm. He runs better than I did,’’ says Bucky. “Yeah, he has the ability, he’s just got to put it all together.’’
Cody says he needs to work on his hitting and “playing more relaxed.’’
For Florida, Dent batted .233 in 28 games as a freshman and .417 in nine league games. Dent got two hits and drove in both Navigator runs in an extra-inning victory July 6 at New Bedford. Through nine games, Dent is batting .294 with six RBIs.
“He’s here in Lynn to get at-bats,’’ says the elder Dent.
As a junior in high school, Cody fractured a bone in his hand and kept playing. After finally having surgery, he missed nearly two months of his senior year. Then he didn’t play much as a freshman at Florida.
The younger Dent likes having his old man in the stands.
“He sees things other people don’t,’’ says Cody. “He’ll help me be a better player.’’
An honor roll student, Dent says he wants to play in the big leagues.
“You always have to have a Plan B, but I don’t want to have a Plan B,’’ he says. “I hope to have some fun this summer and make some new friends.’’
But toward the end of the game, some fans wonder aloud what Cody’s middle name is.
It’s Joseph, not “Bleeping.’’
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.