Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Matt Kemp Deserves Our Support

Before signing his big contract and assuming leadership of the Dodgers clubhouse, Matt Kemp was a bit of an enigma. There was little doubt about his talent defensively or offensively, and once he started laying off those sliders down and away and started mashing the ball, he looked like the first Dodgers threat since Manny Ramirez.

There were whispers of a potential sulking, pouty attitude, particularly when Larry Bowa tried to use tough love to get under Kemp's skin. There were times when Kemp appeared aloof, perhaps foolhardy when taking routes to fly balls, or even starstruck, when his good looks and superstar girlfriend appeared to distract Kemp from focusing on the field.

But since signing that eight-year, $160M deal last year, Kemp has shown newfound leadership and poise alongside his fire for the game. He may be criticized for giving his all in the outfield, but he's not pulling careless maneuvers a la Bryce Harper. His dating life with, or without, Rihanna, has not dominated the press like it once did.

And more than that, he has shown maturity when dealing with the adversity of this season--with his offensive numbers possibly tempered by his continued recovery from injury (Kemp has not yet attributed his slow start to his shoulder recovery)--dealing with his weakened powers with understandable concern, but still calm:

A day after striking out four times, Matt Kemp was dropped to the fifth spot in the Dodgers’ lineup.

Kemp understood Manager Don Mattingly’s decision.

“He’s got to do what he’s got to do,” Kemp said. “I don’t disagree with him for moving me down. I’ve been giving away a lot of at-bats. I really haven’t been helping my team too much.”

This will mark the first time Kemp has hit anywhere other than third or fourth since Sept. 27, 2010.

“I can’t be mad at him for moving me to fifth,” Kemp said. “Fifth ain’t bad. There are some RBIs in the five hole too.”

Mattingly said he was hoping to take pressure off Kemp.

Adrian Gonzalez will bat third and Andre Ethier fourth.

“Hopefully, I can get it going in the five hole,” Kemp said. “Shoot, I’ll try any hole – one hole, two hole, three hole, five hole, six hole, seven hole, eight hole, nine hole.”

Mattingly said he also envisions batting Kemp second or fifth, depending on the matchup.

Kemp’s sense of humor appeared to still be intact, as he cracked several jokes about his inability to hit.

“I can’t let this get me down,” Kemp said. “Baseball is not an easy sport. I think we’ve all struggled. I’ve had some conversations with some future Hall of Fame baseball players and they’ve been through the same things I’m going through at this moment. All of them told me the same thing: that I can hit and you have to believe you can hit and it will come back.”

Kudos to Kemp for approaching this lineup change professionally, and for Mattingly for handling Kemp with apparently the right touch, in a difficult situation. After all, it's not like Kemp doesn't hear the boos:

"I'm taking a beating from the fans," admits Kemp, and that was before he struck out four more times. "It's disappointing to get booed by our own fans, even shocking.

"Maybe the fans are disappointed in me for not performing," he says, and I let him know there is no maybe about it.

"I would never boo one of my favorite players or someone on my team," Kemp says. "As a true fan I would stick with him in the bad times as well as the good." [...]

Kemp ran into a Colorado wall last season, underwent shoulder surgery and now swings hard. But he pulls back at the very end because his shoulder lacks flexibility. It makes him vulnerable to low and outside pitches.

Kemp hates, and that's not a strong enough word for it, to say anything that might suggest he's making excuses for his lousy play.

"I'm the one swinging at the bad pitches," he says. "I don't want to talk about my shoulder."

But the fact is he's two months into the season and he has just been cleared medically to start lifting weights. And it might be months more before Kemp is swinging like Kemp again.

"It doesn't matter," says Kemp. "Kobe finds a way [when he's hurt] and I have to find a way to help us win."

The booing, though, is threatening to become a drag on his confidence as if he needs another mountain to climb.

"As much as superstar athletes don't say a lot about failure, every athlete is scared of failing," says Kemp. "It's not doubt, it's just human nature."

If Dodgers fans want to cheer a winner, Kemp may be as important to the cause as any player on the team, they might want to stop tearing into Kemp while he finds himself again.

And leave the booing to the columnists.

Well, not THIS "columnist". Matt, we are still supporting you 1000000%. We know you are playing through pain, even if you won't admit it, and we hope to see you recapture your potential, which we've seen and loved. I think you can do it. And even if I'm getting frustrated, I won't boo you at games, either.

We're there for you, Matt Kemp. Get well soon, as we sure as hell need you.


Johnny Blanchard said...

So many better things/players/etc. to boo. I boo Colletti. I know he can hear me.

rbnlaw said...

I was saying "boo-urns."

In fairness, fans pay the money, they can boo. They've been booing Ethier as well.

Dusty Baker said...

I'm not a booer, but if I had to, it would be toward my own team's player whom I thought wasn't pulling his weight or putting in the 100% effort. I don't at all think this to be the case with Kemp. Clearly there's an issue or issues with him, but his heart and effort are not among them.

Ethier, on the other hand...