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The realized potential of the new Matt Kemp

August 27, 2011 |  8:19 am


There is almost nothing about Matt Kemp this season that has resembled the Matt Kemp of last season.

Not the effort, not the focus, not the delight he takes in playing and, most definitely, not the results.

"He’s playing with some joy now, and that’s good to see," said Manager Don Mattingly.

Of course, it’s not difficult to be happy when you’re having the kind of season like Kemp. His home run Friday night put him in the exclusive 30-30 club –- at least 30 home runs and steals in the same season.

His latest home run was a shot, traveling an estimated 427 feet and bouncing off the camera platform in center field. Shades of Jose Canseco in the 1988 World Series.

Raul Mondesi is the only other Dodger in the 30-30 club, and he accomplished it twice (1997, 1999). Mondesi never did it as quickly as Kemp (130 games), and it still leaves open at least the possibility of pushing it to 40-40.

"Has anyone here ever done it?" Kemp asked, already knowing the answer. "That would be pretty special.

"If I do it, it means I’m helping my club win."

Kemp showed up in spring training having dropped several pounds. No more love handles. He clearly had been working hard in the offseason, and it carried over in the spring and throughout the season.

And it has translated into a more relaxed, confident player who clearly enjoys playing the game.

"That was one of my goals, to have more fun," Kemp said. "It’s a kid’s game. Just relax and let it come to me."

Kemp is in the top four in all triple-crown categories (.323 average, 30 homers, 98 RBIs) and it’s put him in the National League’s Most Valuable Player conversation.

"That’s pretty good, huh?" Mattingly said. "It’s been a tremendous season for him in all areas of his game.

"He’s playing hard every day. That’s the guy leading the way."

There’s a comment that never would have been uttered last season, when Kemp too often suffered lapses of concentration on the field, the bases and at the plate.

But that was a different Kemp, one who reeked undelivered superstar potential. Kemp from the Bizarro world. This is a different Kemp, a player who has delivered, joy and all.


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Photo: Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp watches hi solo home run against the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press