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Kent: Bonds 'dogged' for keeping 'bad company'

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Jeff Kent once fought in the dugout with
Barry Bonds. Still, Kent believes his former teammate should be cut
some slack as talk of steroids ripples through baseball.

"Barry tries to do his best, as we all do, to shed light on
issues that he has and we all have in our lives," Kent said from
the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring training camp.

"I understand he has a lot he can't talk about; I understand he
has a lot of anger at the media," Kent added. "I have a lot of
respect for Barry. He is one of the best players ever to play the
game. I know in time things will work themselves out. Barry tries.
Because of what he's done and who he is, he's a lot different than
most of us."

Bonds was defiant at a recent news conference dealing mostly
with steroids. He called reporters liars in his first public
comments since his leaked grand jury testimony was reported by the
San Francisco Chronicle in December.

Bonds testified in December 2003 that he used a clear substance
and a cream given to him by a trainer who was indicted in a
steroid-distribution ring, but said he didn't know if they were
steroids, the newspaper said. Prosecutors believe the substances
were two steroids at the center of the BALCO scandal.

"He's getting dogged right now. The media's pushing him to the
wall because he kept bad company," Kent said, referring to BALCO.

Kent and Bonds played together for six years on the San
Francisco Giants. He said they got along better than many think.

"We respected each other. We complemented each other very
well," said Kent, the NL MVP in 2000. Bonds won the award the past
four years.

"We fought each other, and 30 minutes later we hugged each
other," Kent said. "I get so tired of people saying we had a bad
clubhouse. We played well together."

Bonds enters the season with 703 homers, trailing only Hank
Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714). Kent knows something of home runs
as well.

A four-time All-Star who signed a two-year, $17 million contract
with the Dodgers in December, Kent is baseball's leading home run
hitter for a second baseman with 278. He is one ahead of Ryne
Sandberg, who was elected to the Hall of Fame last month.

While Kent was willing to speak about Bonds, he declined comment
on the steroid debate.

"There are too many good things happening in this clubhouse,"
he said.

Kent, who turns 37 next month, joined the Dodgers for two
reasons -- he grew up in the Los Angeles area, and he believes they
can win.

"I'm looking for an excuse to retire," he said. "Winning a
championship, that would probably be it. That's all I play for.
I've played for my contracts, I've played in good cities. There's
nothing like playing in the World Series."

Kent did that in 2002 when the Giants lost to the Angels in
seven games. He's still haunted by Game 6 in which the Giants led
5-0 entering the last of the seventh inning before losing 6-5. The
Angels won the seventh game 4-1.

"I wish I would have started a fight in the locker room with
Barry or somebody to take away the attention," Kent said. "I wish
I would have done something stupid to draw the attention away. We
didn't have anything left for the seventh game. Our heads were so
flustered, so compressed with emotion."

Kent spent the last two seasons with the Houston Astros. He hit
.289 with 27 homers and 107 RBIs last season -- driving in more than
100 runs for the seventh time in eight years.

Dodgers manager Jim Tracy already has said Kent will bat
cleanup.

"You can't teach a guy to want to be up there time after time
with the game on the line," Tracy said. "That's a quality that
not everyone possesses. He does."

Outfielder J.D. Drew, who also joined the Dodgers during the
offseason, added: "He's always been a tough out. Some guys on
other teams, you don't worry a lot about. Him, you do."

Kent disagrees with those who say he represents a drop-off
defensively at second base now that Alex Cora is gone.

"I take pride in my defense," Kent said. "I'm a really good
defensive player. For some reason, I've been criticized for my
defensive skills."

Kent nearly reached the World Series a second time last October.
His three-run homer in the ninth of Game 5 gave the Astros a 3-0
victory over St. Louis and a 3-2 lead in the NL championship
series. But the Cardinals won the next two games.

"There's probably only two or three times in my career when
I've let go emotionally," Kent said, recalling his broad grin
while the Astros awaited his arrival at home plate. "And then I've
come up short with what I really wanted to do -- win a
championship."