GatorZone.com Senior Writer
OMAHA, Neb. – As Bucky Dent walked back to Florida’s team hotel late Saturday night, the former Yankees shortstop doesn’t recall hearing anyone shout Cody “Bleeping” Dent.
But Longhorns fans now know how Red Sox fans feel.
Gators sophomore Cody Dent, a light-hitting third baseman without a career extra-base hit when he stepped to the plate in the fourth inning of Saturday’s College World Series game against Longhorns ace Taylor Jungmann, ripped an RBI double down the left-field line to put Florida ahead for good in an 8-4 win.
His father Bucky cheered from the stands at TD Ameritrade Park. His teammates cheered from the dugout. Cody clapped his hands on second base in the shining moment of his young UF career, pulling Jungmann’s fastball – the first pitch he saw – to put the Gators up 4-3 after they fell behind 3-0.
“My approach on that at-bat was to try to get it done early. Jungmann is a first-round draft pick and I didn’t want to fall behind,’’ Cody said. “I wasn’t really even trying to get the runner in. I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball and keep the inning going.’’
Dent has been getting the job done from the ninth hole since Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan inserted him into the starting lineup on May 20 against Kentucky in the final regular-season series. He’s also been making the plays in the field, which is why O’Sullivan started using Dent as the postseason approached.
Third base has been a sore spot for the Gators, with Jeff Moyer and Zack Powers each suffering injuries during the regular season that hurt them defensively. Dent, who has started 14 consecutive games after starting just four of the first 54, has made his mark defensively, stretching his streak of consecutive errorless games to 12 in Saturday’s win.
More surprisingly, however, is what Dent has done at the plate. Prior to moving into the starting lineup, Dent was hitting a measly .103 (3-for-29). He is hitting .262 (11-for-42) since, knocking in five runs and doing all the little things expected of the No. 9 hitter.
The lineup change has been a double winner in O’Sullivan’s eyes.
“For me personally, it’s been very reassuring,’’ O’Sullivan. “Knowing that when the ball is hit on the ground, we’ve got a good chance of catching it and it’s an out.
“Offensively, he’s probably been one of those un-sung heroes. He’s had some really quality at-bats, he’s found his way on base. He has done everything and more of what I could have expected. I’m really proud of the way he has been playing.’’
So is Dent’s dad, Russell Earl Dent – aka Bucky – who is best-known for his three-run homer off Boston’s Mike Torrez over Fenway’s Green Monster in a one-game playoff for the American League East pennant in 1978.
He’s still known as Bucky “Bleeping” Dent around New England, but he is simply Cody’s dad around the Gators. Bucky Dent watched nervously from his seat when Cody faced Jungmann at a key point in Saturday’s game.
“We were just hoping he would get a base hit right there,’’ Bucky said. “I’m just happy for him, that he is able to contribute. He has waited on this moment for a long time. He has worked so hard and hasn’t gotten discouraged.’’
As Cody sat glued to the bench for most of the season, he often talked to his dad for encouragement. Bucky, who spent his 12-year big-league career in the American League, told Cody about his rookie season with the White Sox in 1973 when he rarely saw the field except to pinch-run or as a late defensive replacement.
Bucky also shared stories about his time as a bench coach in the National League with Cincinnati and St. Louis. It was during that time that Bucky developed a stronger appreciation for utility players, guys who spend much of their time waiting on an opportunity to play and then are called up at critical junctures in the game.
“I just tried to tell him that you have to stay ready not only physically, but you have to stay ready mentally,’’ Bucky said. “All the extra work will pay off. You have to always keep an eye on the pitcher and keep your head in the game. You never know when your time will come.’’
Cody used that approach to help get through those long stretches when he didn’t play. While he is now a regular in the lineup, his approach hasn’t changed. Cody said the fact he is chipping in offensively from the bottom of the lineup in the postseason is a bonus to his story.
“I’m hitting better than I was,’’ Cody said. “I don’t really focus on my batting average. I focus more on doing my job at the plate and doing whatever we need to win – getting on base, working the county, moving the runner over.
“I’ve always hoped for this.’’
Senior second baseman Josh Adams is thrilled at Dent’s success considering the way Dent handled his limited playing time earlier in the season.
“He works his butt off,’’ Adams said. “We’ve been waiting for someone to step up all season over there. He definitely deserves it. He’s done exactly what we all thought he could do. We knew he was a good defender, a good hitter. We trust him over there. That’s what we needed, somebody we could trust.”
Meanwhile, Bucky will be back in the stands when the Gators face Vanderbilt on Monday night and for the rest of the CWS.
If Cody comes up with another big hit, maybe fans will start calling him by a nickname like Red Sox fans do Bucky. Regardless, Cody’s big moment provided Bucky with a memorable Father’s Day story to share on Sunday.
“He’s playing good,’’ Bucky said. “I’m really proud of him. He reminds me of myself some. He’s better than I could be. He runs better, he has a better arm.’’
Born a few years after Bucky’s playing career ended in 1984, Cody has seen enough footage of his dad playing to see the similarities. He certainly understands the comparisons.
“We both are known more for defense than offense,’’ Cody said.
The most famous hit of his dad’s career will always be that home run at Fenway, the one that scarred a generation of Boston fans. Was Cody’s double against the Longhorns his biggest hit?
“It’s pretty far up there. Yeah,’’ he said.
Longhorn fans won’t forget it.