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He’s Not Quite as Hip but Still Has His Hops

The deeper I get into my 30s, the more I appreciate guys like Kenny Lofton, who show you still can be productive at age 39 despite such drawbacks as touchy hamstrings and humiliating rap videos that resurface on YouTube.

There’s Lofton, still productive at the plate, batting .312 this season right behind surging leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal, providing a 1-2 punch at the top of the Dodgers’ batting order. Sixteen years in the big leagues, and although he might be slowing down, at least you can say he isn’t coming to a halt.

“I feel like I can still do a lot of things,” said Lofton, who has stolen 20 bases in 23 attempts this season. “I still can get to almost the same speed I was years ago. But I can’t do it consistently like I did. Back then I just ran wild. At this point I’m running more under control. I can get out of the box just as quick. But if I’ve got to get out of the box four times a game, it won’t be as fast as it was back then.”

Or as he put it when describing the difference in his dunking ability on the basketball court: “I used to have haaaaaang time. Now I have hang time.”

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Even if he can’t throw down off-the-backboard, grab-the-head jams like he did to win a promotional contest, he can still dunk. And even if he doesn’t make those home-run-stopping catches anymore (and makes even routine fly balls adventuresome), he still does enough at the plate to make him an integral part of this revitalized Dodgers season.

“We know that Kenny’s a player that’s been around teams that win,” Manager Grady Little said. “That’s where he is right now. He’s a productive player. We know that he needs his days off, but right now he’s doing [such] an outstanding job, it’s hard to take him out of there.”

So Lofton was in the lineup Saturday against the San Francisco Giants, starting a day game after a night game when fellow veterans Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra all but had the day off. He singled and scored a run on Julio Lugo’s double in the first inning and singled again in the sixth. Jason Repko replaced him in the outfield in the ninth and made a warning-track catch on a drive by Steve Finley that helped preserve the Dodgers’ 6-5 victory.

Lofton said there’s no secret formula to his maintenance plan. “I stay in shape, I don’t eat crazy stuff, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink,” he said.

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Even the youngsters such as James Loney can appreciate what Lofton’s doing. Loney was 7 years old in 1991 when Lofton broke into the majors with the Houston Astros. Loney has childhood memories of Lofton scaling the outfield walls in Cleveland and once owned a pair of Lofton-model Nikes.

Now they’re on the same team, and Loney marvels at how Lofton has held up.

“He doesn’t even look like an older guy,” Loney said.

Sure, Lofton caught a good draw from the genetic card deck, which he acknowledges with a T-shirt that reads: “Nature was good to me.”

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He’s a good enough golfer to have shot a 74 at Pebble Beach. And his basketball talent enabled him to play on a 1988 NCAA Final Four team at Arizona that included future NBA players Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr and Tom Tolbert.

Unfortunately for Lofton that came during the regrettable sports rap video phase of the 1980s, when they all thought it would be a good idea to record the song you can see at youtube.com/watchv_pgxhxZhxfc. (The Dodgers’ public relations director happily shared the link with Lofton’s teammates.)

“Whatever,” Lofton said when I mentioned the video. Then he broke down and sang the chorus: “W-I-L-D. Cats. W-I-L-D. Wildcats.” Then he sang his line: “Elliott’s here it’s time to play.”

The tight shorts (and I believe I saw a mullet) date the video but also serve as a reminder that after all this time, everyone else has retired and Lofton’s still playing pro sports.

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It’s a reflection of baseball’s lighter toll on the body and an indication of how badly Lofton wants to win the World Series.

There’s one thing Elliott, Kerr and even former Wildcats teammate Jud Buechler have in common.

“They’ve all got a championship and I don’t,” Lofton said. “That’s something I really want, and I’m trying to do my part to make that happen. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that feel this way. They want the same thing. They want a ring.”

He wants a replica of the World Series trophy to serve as the centerpiece of his modest sports memorabilia collection, which features a boxing robe and trunks autographed by Muhammad Ali as the top items.

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He has the jerseys from his previous nine big league teams framed and displayed at his house.

“I still haven’t got that big prize yet,” said Lofton, who went to the World Series with Cleveland, Atlanta and San Francisco. “I’ve got to get a ring.”

As long as the Dodgers are in first place they can entertain World Series thoughts. So even if Lofton is another day closer to 40 today, he’s also another day closer to winning a division.

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J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande go to latimes.com/adandeblog.


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