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Close To the Heart
Michael Silver
May 01, 1995
A grandmother's nurturing put Kenny Lofton on the right track, and now the Indians' standout leadoff hitter watches over her
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May 01, 1995

Close To The Heart

A grandmother's nurturing put Kenny Lofton on the right track, and now the Indians' standout leadoff hitter watches over her

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"What a representative for our team and our city," Hart says of Lofton. "He has the opportunity to be a George Brett-type player here, someone who is synonymous with a franchise." Lofton signed a four-year, $6.3 million deal before the 1993 season, and the Indians have an option for 1997 at a relatively cheap $4.25 million. But Hart says the team may approach Lofton about negotiating an extension as early as this summer.

Of course the longer Lofton succeeds in Cleveland, the harder it will be to retreat from the public eye. But in the meantime, when the season's over, Lofton avoids the spotlight. He lives alone in a two-bedroom house in Tucson, a city that is to nightlife what the infomercial is to visual entertainment. Lofton's closest friends there—Strachan, Cooper, Crist (now a scouting supervisor with the Indians) and former Arizona basketball teammate Harvey Mason—are married and have children. Lofton is particularly close to his goddaughter, Strachan's three-year-old daughter, Kendahl, with whom Lofton shares a loving and playfully combative relationship. "Because of his upbringing, when it comes to kids, he is very discipline-conscious," Strachan says. "Anybody who sees them together would swear he was Kendahl's mother."

Inner-city children are the recipients of most of Lofton's charitable efforts in Cleveland and East Chicago, endeavors that, according to Mason, "he tries to sneak past everyone." But the folks of East Chicago took notice in February, when the Twin City Community Services Center honored Lofton as the East Chicagoan of the Year. The banquet drew a standing-room-only crowd, which enjoyed watching Lofton being roasted by friends. Mason was a surprise guest, having flown up from Tucson to SUDDIV the most embarrassing testimony. He told the gathering about the glittery-blue Chrysler Laser that Lofton drove in college, "a really sad, raggedy little car that Kenny thought was this really hot racer." Mason also made fun of a red leather tie and red socks that helped Lofton earn "best-dressed" honors at an Arizona basketball banquet.

Finally Lofton took the podium and playfully lashed back at his roasters, and after everyone howled again, he started to leave the stage. But there was one more surprise waiting for him: the unveiling of a street sign that read KENNY LOFTON LANE. The city had renamed Butler Street, the road on which Person's new house stands, after him. At that moment Lofton looked over at his grandmother, the woman who used to sneak into the alley to watch him play stickball but who is now almost totally blind. He let down his guard and lost his composure.

"He wanted to put this big, macho front on, and he just started bawling," says Collins. "The whole place was silent because he was just so humbled, and it was such a shock. I was sitting there next to him, and when he started crying, I just fell out laughing. All of us—we were laughing and crying at the same time."

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