The biggest adjustment has been altering his stance. After getting jettisoned by the Indians, he had an epiphany in his garage. "I was lifting weights and wondering why I was having so much trouble driving the ball," he says. "I thought of the way [Seattle's] Edgar Martinez holds his bat, and it dawned on me—I'm holding mine too low! If I held my hands higher, I would swing directly down on the ball." Instead of almost resting on his shoulder, Kent's bat now fairly hovers over his head.
Coming off last year's success, Kent has eased up on himself—some. "Jeff has learned to live with imperfections a little," says Dana, who was Jeff's high school sweetheart and who is expecting the couple's third child next month. "Maybe it has to do with turning 30. Or maybe having two toddlers has mellowed him. When Lauren wets her diaper, Jeff understands there's nothing he can do about it."
However, he can have an influence in other ways. For every run he drives in, Kent donates $500 to a scholarship fund he set up for women athletes at Cal. Last season he and four corporate sponsors raised almost $114,000 for Women Driven. Kent attended Cal on a two-thirds scholarship and remembers what it was like to struggle financially. (When he left, he was a little more than a year's worth of credits short of a degree.) Last spring he signed a three-year, $18 million contract extension, but he owns just one car: the 1986 Toyota pickup his dad bought him in high school.
"I accepted the [responsibility] of being wealthy, and I wanted to create a program for people who have been traditionally underserved," Kent says. "I want women to use sports to [get a college education and] become professionals. They might not all be professional athletes, but they'll be professional somebodies: teachers, doctors, businesswomen. They'll make a difference somehow. That's what I want to do: make a difference."
He says this while seated in the bleachers at a south Texas cattle auction. Beside him sits Lenn Crider, his foreman. Crider evaluates each Hereford, Charolais and Brahma, front, back and profile, as if he were an art critic sizing up a newly found masterpiece. Greenhorn Kent listens closely to the critiques, which are rigorous but almost kindly. "I just bought a 3,600-acre spread around here that I hope to turn into a game management ranch," Kent tells one cowpoke.
The ranch owned by baseball's foremost perfectionist is about a half hour from Nolan Ryan's. Kent calls the Hall of Fame fireballer about once a month for tips on raising cattle. "Maybe I can get Nolan to sell me a calf autographed with his branding iron," Kent says. "That's my idea of perfection."
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