It all seemed so surreal. Clayton Kershaw was on the mound, and he was trying to get Matt Kemp out at the plate. Kemp seemed like a camouflaged double agent. Once the superstar outfielder gleamed in his crisp white and blue Dodger uniform, but now Kemp’s brown San Diego uniform gives him more of a menacing look. Not so much a look of ill will, but he knows the team he’s competing against like nobody else except perhaps his former teammate Andre Ethier.
Ethier and Kemp still laughed together in the outfield during Spring Training, and I will cherish the moments when we watched the two veterans hit back-to-back in the Dodger lineup. The days of The Bison and Captain Clutch are nearly gone, and it’s hard to move on.
Watching Kemp succeed against Kershaw and the Dodgers during the Opening Series didn’t trigger me to boo the one-time M.V.P. caliber player. Perhaps I’m still numb after the trade, and it may take me a bit longer into the season to start thinking of Matt as an enemy force instead of the twinkling eyed star we watched crush homeruns out of Dodger Stadium in 2011.
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All those injuries sure created some resentment from fans who had high expectations for him post-2011. It was frustrating to see Kemp struggle with his shoulder rehabilitation and subsequent ankle injury. That fateful day at Coors Field will forever be ingrained into my memory. I could never boo Kemp, because I know of the sacrifices he gave for the sake of the team. The ankle injury was certainly preventable on his part, but it certainly should not encapsulate his career as a whole.
Those hips don’t lie. Matt Kemp looks healthy (finally), and his reportedly arthritic hips don’t seem to be affecting his swing. Kemp is still a great player, but unfortunately the new front office seemed like they had plans to trade Kemp from the get go.
Team chemistry means something, but chemistries in the clubhouse are constantly evolving. I can’t speak for Kemp’s clubhouse presence, because the few times I have been in the clubhouse there hasn’t ever been any drama. The homerun bubbles are gone, and our Bison has been traded away.
My feelings might change come September when the Padres are breathing down the backs of the Dodgers in the N.L. West as they vie for their third consecutive division title. I’d be furious if Matt Kemp hit a game-winning homerun against the Dodgers down the stretch, but I still would never boo him. He’s Matt Kemp. It’s almost as if he’s still a Dodger, but in disguise.
I’m not in the acceptance phase yet. Matt Kemp was a great Dodger for so long, and it’s hard to say goodbye let alone vilify a player who hit one of the most fantastic Dodger homeruns in franchise history just a few months ago.
Winning a World Championship without Matt Kemp will be bittersweet. Kemp and Kershaw were the faces of the Dodgers franchise for so many memorable seasons. While infamous foes like Shane Victorino, Gerardo Parra, Ian Kennedy and Carlos Quentin will always be jeered by me, Matt Kemp could never be placed in that same category.
"“Everybody knows that I want to stay a Dodger, be a Dodger and end my career here,” Kemp said. “That’s up to the Dodger organization. I’m here for the long haul.”"
Kemp may reboot his career in San Diego, and I wish him the best of luck in the rest of his career. Of course, on the field, it should be all business. I won’t shed a tear when Clayton Kershaw strikes Kemp out with his devastating curveball, and I will cheer when Kemp is called out during a Dodgers-Padres game. I will never boo Kemp when he comes to the plate. Matt Kemp thought he would be a Dodger forever, and so did I.