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Matt Kemp and his ultimate question

Dare to be great.

It’s what you tell your children. It’s the drive you try to instill. That whatever the endeavor, give it your best and do not fear attempting to be great.

Then there are those times when extraordinary talent merges with extraordinary effort. When the desire to excel pushes rarified ability, until something truly special is created.

Does Matt Kemp hunger to be great?

That’s what it’s really about with Kemp. The one thing everyone agrees about when it comes to Kemp is, he oozes ability. He is blessed with exceptional athletic talent.

Last season, however, too often he betrayed his gifts. His defense lagged, his batting average dropped almost 50 points, his baserunning mystified. His hustle and fundamentals were questioned. There were run-ins with coaches. His strikeouts shattered his club record.

"I didn’t really have that much fun last year,’’ Kemp said.  "It was a disappointing season. Things didn’t go the way we wanted them to go.’’

If Kemp does not make excuses, neither does he particularly wish to dwell on last season’s shortcomings.

"It was a learning experience,’’ he said. "That was a hard year. Nobody wants to lose and not make the playoffs. We had a good team, we just didn’t put it together right.’’

Tuesday on the Dodgers’ community caravan, Kemp was upbeat as he led a group of fans along the Santa Monica beach to pick up trash. They followed him like the Pied Piper. They called out questions as he joked with a 7-year-old boy.

How do you feel?

"Like 200 million dollars,’’ Kemp said.

"Gonna hit 40-40?" asked one, referring to his September promise of 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases for next season.

"Eighty-eighty,’’ Kemp said.

Kemp was laughing, being playful, enjoying himself like he did too seldom last season.

Of course, it’s a tribute to his athletic ability that even in what was considered a disappointing season, he still finished with a career-high 28 home runs and team-high 89 RBIs.

But the results of those with exceptional ability are not measured against those of more modest talents.

There is more in Kemp, and like everyone else, he knows it. More on the field and in the clubhouse.

"I need to be more of a leader on this team,’’ he said. "I need to step up. When something needs to be said, be that guy to say it. I’m usually been one of those guys who pretty much keeps to himself. I think some things need to change. What we did last year didn’t work, so we need to change it up and do some different things.’’

It’s hard to step up in the clubhouse when you’re struggling on the field. Hard to find your voice, when you can’t locate your swing.

Kemp talks now like he cannot wait to begin his turnaround. Several excuses, real or otherwise, have been eliminated. Gone are the coaches he struggled with last season, Larry Bowa and Bob Schaefer. Over is the high-profile relationship with pop star Rhianna. General Manager Ned Colletti and Kemp are back on good terms.

Kemp, 26, normally says the right things. It’s the follow up that has often disappointed.

If Kemp can find the fire to match his ability, if he can master that focus … just how good could he be?

Does Matt Kemp hunger to be great?

"Of course,’’ he said. "You don’t want to be all right. You want to be really good.’’

-- Steve Dilbeck

Comments () | Archives (20)

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ESPN Matt Kemp Interview, (Doesnt want ppl to blame Rihanna for his poor perfomance) listen here >

Matt Kemp has been scripted nicely by his agent Dave Stewart. And Stewart no doubt will yank Kemp out of the Dodger organization first chance he gets. Less than a year ago Stewart assessed the handling of Kemp by the Dodgers as "...a bunch of back-seat crap." If Kemp plays like a bobblehead this's going to get real ugly on and off the field.

Matt's problems can be summed up in one word for last year "Rihanna'.

I said before the season when they started dating, 'there goes his and the Dodger's season'. Sho nuff, true to form he got caught in the limelight and was starstruck like a little kid's first visit at Disneyland.

Mind you it is not Rihanna's fault that Matt is EASILY DISTRACTED. His focus can be measured in hours and not days. Matt is 26 years old now which means the next 10 years can be monster one's for him, or he can just collect a great paycheck for producing good (as opposed to great) numbers. His skills are without question, his mental toughness and focus is what the Dodgers need collectively, without losing the aura of the little boy in each of them.

Tell you what Matt, give 80% of the men of America your skills and talent, and we would be superstars instead of continual projects.

Kemp doing good in the community - that I like. Credit earned, credit given from me, one of his harshest critics of last year.

Here's hoping he really turns it around this season. C'mon Kemp - we need you.

Beat giants - win World Series!

Maybe it's low aim, but I'll settle for 60/60.

Trade Matt Kemp before it's too late.
I did!

Kemp is so close to being great and just as close to being Raul Mondesi. He could go either way. I think Davey Lopes may hold the secret to getting into this guy's head. There is no way he shouldn't have 35 SB a year and no way he couldn't become the clubhouse leader. This team desperately needs someone to step up - hoping Kemp is that guy!

You can teach someone to take a big turn, throw to the right base, and lay off the breaking stuff in the dirt. But you can't teach him to care...

Here's to hoping that the "walk" can match the "talk." What a player he would be! Come on Matt, go for it!

Garbage ballplayer.

"I didn’t really have that much fun last year," Kemp said.

Dude, you are not paid millions to "have fun". I bet it wasn't "fun" for the Dodgers every time they had to scratch you a check!

I hope Matt Kemp's hunger is not quite the same as Andruw Jones' were.

Doesn't love the game.

I think a lot of Kemp's problems started and ended with Torre, Bowa and Schaefer. Rihanna as an additional distraction probably didn't help either. This is however Kemp's year to put up or shut up. He's still lolligagging around you have to look to trade him while you can still get something of value for him. I am looking for him to put up some impressive numbers this year though.

Bottom line is Matty is not a type of player you trade. Fans get upset and think he's got a bad attitude or sulks too much like he's not human and void of emotions. How can you not sulk and be upset when you're disappointed in your own performance and then hear about it and your personal life all the time? His uber-talent aside, Matt has been a model citizen in L.A., no trouble with anybody or anything, this guy has his head screwed on straight and lives right. Sure he had a down year last year, sure his fielding and baserunning gaffes were maddening and confounding, his drop in average alarming, but it was a tough year, they happen. Matt will bounce back this year, he is only one year removed from both a silver slugger award and gold glove award in the same year when he was just 24! All Dodger fans will be glad he wasn't traded. Just keep flashing that smile Matty, bring back the fun time Dodgers and NL West division baby!

The Bison has run a fowl...

Kemp has to feel like he's going to be great. That he'll be one of the stars in the big leagues. More confidence will make him the player he should be.

"matt kemp and his ultimate question"

- to be or not to be...

Twill not.

I agree with aaron d. Very well said.

Bear with me here...

I live in Norcal. In 2009 I went to a Dodger game at The Phone Booth which I do a few times a year. The players drive up in cabs and sometimes walk into the stadium through a players entrance. There is always a group of people trying to get autographs. Some in this group are irritating and annoying. There are a few others that are sometimes there, that have mental disabilities and it is sometimes awkward as often players (I'm not just talking Dodgers players) aren't sure how to react since they don't see them often enough to know them. People -- not just ballplayers are sometimes not comfortable with what they don't know.

Some of the players will sign autographs and some don't sign at all & flat out ignore you.

Well this one time in late 2009 Kemp stopped and signed autographs for everyone that was there. He was chatting it up with everybody -- super friendly & engaging & you could tell was just enjoying himself and the fans. Many players seem annoyed or put off with signing (As I can understand -- it must get to be a pain to always be hounded). But Kemp was posing for pictures and really seemed to be genuine in his laughing and chatting. There was this one kid who is probably in his late teens or early 20's but has some disabilities and thus is much younger. He is also deaf and because of this can be hard to understand. Kemp posed with him for a photo that the kid was holding the camera and doing self portraits. After about four attempts where the kid took it then looked at it and wanted another because it didn't come out well. Kemp said "Here I have longer arms" and held the camera for the shot. Kemp was never a jerk to the kid -- smiled, put his arm around him, and was gracious with him and everybody else. One of the people there said to Kemp that he had such a great attitude and Kemp seemed surprised. Kemp said why wouldn't he have a good attitude -- that he had a great life and how could he not "enjoy this -- it's fun".
Now I've also seen Kemp in 2010 not sign and ignore people & appear bummed out as he moped by with his head down. That day as he passed I said to him to keep his head up -- that it'll get better. That was the day he was being benched and then Manny hurt his leg and Kemp came into to pinch run.

I really grew to like Kemp that day in 2009. He showed class and was a kind person. I think he is a great player and will improve. He obviously had a bad year last year as the whole team did. But I can't say he doesn't have heart, want to win, or doesn't care. What I can say is he is a young man in his late 20's that is still learning how to be a man. I know I still am & I'm in my 40's.

This last year is probably his first run in with failure and real critisism. As is the case with most supremely gifted talents, they are pampered and adulated their entire lives. When you are faster, stronger, and more coordinated than everybody else, failure rarely occurs. For the rest of us, with the help of constructive critisism; overcoming and learning from failure is how we mature as human beings. Could be last year was a big first step for the 26 yr old kid becoming a man but I'm a little sceptical. He's so good he might need a little more failing before he fully matures.


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