Greatness comes with a price. For superheroes, the price is hiding your real identity. For artists, the price can be, say, your ear. And for athletes, the price is growing up in public.
A few days ago, my colleague Sax expressed frustration that the price of watching Dodger youngsters growing up was costing us games. Fox reporter Ken Rosenthal reflected this sentiment in today's national telecast, saying Dodger management is tiring of the inability of players like Matt Kemp, James Loney and Andre Ethier to make adjustments in their play.
But the Dodger kids have been doing just that. Ethier deserves the most leeway, as Andruw Jones had been preventing him from seeing regular playing time until recently. Although Loney leads the team in grounding into double plays, he has also shown the ability to adjust defensively, making corrections in his throws to second base. Russell Martin rebounded from an early-season offensive slump (although his throws to second are under scrutiny), and Blake DeWitt has shown the poise of a veteran.
No, all this talk about immaturity and adjustments and production is really about one player: Matt Kemp. Not coincidentally, Kemp is also the one youngster in the group with the highest potential. (Some say stratospheric—Dave Winfield has been evoked.) And both the anguish and joy of following such a volatile player have been on display in the past few days.
First came The Fight. Kemp overreacted. Kemp vs. Torrealba was decided in favor of the Rockies catcher, suspended for three games to Kemp's four (currently under appeal). Next came The Bat Break, Kemp's reaction to his undisciplined ninth-inning bases-loaded strikeout against a struggling Kerry Wood.
Individually, each event was enough to make you roll your eyes; collectively, they seemed like a prelude to a meltdown.
Then came The Three-Run Home Run, and with one swing of the bat Matt Kemp absolved his sins.
Or did he? There's still the issue of the suspension, which at best would be reduced to three games. With Jones still on the disabled list, there's no good time for Kemp to sit out three or four games, especially if today's home run means he's finding his power stroke.
But where does growing up come from, if not facing consequences? "He just dug in today, basically, and realized that being frustrated doesn't get you anywhere. What he came back from, that's certainly a growing-up situation," said Joe Torre about Kemp's performance today. And if the suspension does its job, Kemp will be more mindful of his professionalism on the field.
(At the very least, Kemp could learn from losing pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who vented his anger on docile Gatorade coolers in the relative privacy of the dugout. Not classy by any means, but certainly preferable to any on-field outbursts.)
Greatness comes with a price. For Matt Kemp, the price is one suspension, two pieces of a broken bat...and a three-run home run. For Dodger fans, the price is patience. For Dodger management, the price is also patience, in addition to Kemp's paltry $408,000 salary. And if they're seriously thinking of benching or trading Kemp, as Rosenthal suggests, Dodger management would be trading potentially great and cheap for immediately mediocre and expensive. And Dodger fans have had enough of that.
home run photo by Reed Saxon/AP
diving photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images