Matt Kemp: Ready to be a superstar?
Look, no one's asking for much ... just absolute greatness. Just make my jaw drop, tingle the spine, save Pandora and figure out the healthcare mess.
It's the blessing and curse of being Matt Kemp.
It's not like Kemp didn't have a good season last year. He had a very good season. An absolutely terrific season.
But people rightly look at Kemp and see talent oozing. They see him bat .297, hit 26 home runs, drive in 101 runs, steal 34 bases and win a Gold Glove, and they think, "Wait until he really gets it going." They see an Enzo Ferrari purring along at 90 mph knowing there's so much more to give.
Of all the Dodgers' youthful hitters -- Andre Ethier, James Loney, Russell Martin -- Kemp is the one most often whispered about as a potential superstar.
"That's a compliment to me,'' Kemp said. "I'm not saying it's my goal to be a superstar, but it's to play at a high level like some of those other superstars. So if you want to label me a superstar, then I guess that's pretty cool.''
More than cool, it's close to a necessity. The Dodgers need someone from their youthful core to develop as a player who can elevate those around him. Maybe Manny Ramirez can do it again this season, but in the coming years there needs to be another.
Don't think, however, Kemp is burdened by expectations, uncomfortable by the growing spotlight.
"I just have to keep doing what I'm doing,'' he said. "I think the sky is the limit. I know I can reach higher expectations, more goals. I know what I'm capable of doing.''
Fantasy geeks already think Kemp has arrived. Ga-ga over his five-tool talents, he's already considered a top-10 player in preseason rankings.
"I don't even know how that works,'' he said. "I'm sure it's a lot of fun. I know a lot of my boys do all that fantasy basketball and football, but I don't know how the baseball works.''
Kemp seemed surprised to learn the major leagues weren't overflowing with players who can hit, hit with power, run the bases and play defense.
"I don't think there are a lot guys who can do all that,'' he said. "I used to think it wasn't that big of a deal
until I got up here and they told me how big a deal it was. I thought it was something a lot of guys can do, but not a lot of guys can do everything.''
Life is pretty good for Kemp these days. He's coming off his finest season and just signed a two-year contract for almost $11 million. And is reportedly dating recording artist Rihanna, though he told me: "We're just good friends.''
Good, of course, won't get it done for Kemp. Not when greatness is expected.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Matt Kemp attends the Jan. 16 Clippers-Cleveland Cavaliers game at Staples Center with Rihanna. Credit: Kevork Djanzsezian / Getty Images