Dodgers’ Kemp looking to improve over last season
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Already in Los Angeles four years now, 2010 figures to be the first year Matt Kemp officially goes Hollywood.
Kemp was a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner in 2009, finished 10th in the NL MVP voting, and then added even more notoriety over the winter when he was spotted out on the town and at a Mexican resort with singer Rihanna.
It’s no longer just the sports publications that want more of Kemp. People and Us have opened files on him, while Source and GQ have already made calls to the Dodgers’ public relations office. Kemp is getting ready to do a GQ shoot this spring, in fact.
As if being on the cusp of becoming a baseball star wasn’t enough, the 25-year-old Oklahoma native has started to become a household name for those who prefer that their tickets get them into movies or concerts over ballgames.
“There are a lot of people that get hounded about things in their life,” Kemp said. “You just find ways to deal with it and go about your business. It’s not affecting my work. I’m getting my work in and plan on repeating the same season as last year and even better.”
Fortunately, this is a subject manager Joe Torre has become well versed in from his days in New York.
“I had Derek Jeter and I remember calling him in after his first year about the fact that he was single, the city of New York and all that stuff,” Torre said. “He assured me that his priorities were in order and they were.”
So Torre pulled Kemp aside already this spring for a little chat.
“When you get more famous you get more attention, and the fact that he’s dating somebody famous that sort of doubles the attention, or maybe quadruples the attention,” Torre said. “But I don’t think it will change what he’s here to do. He will probably have to answer more questions and be asked more questions about things that aren’t baseball related.”
It isn’t just Kemp’s present that is being scrutinized. Kemp’s past has been dredged up as well, like a restraining order that was taken out on him by an ex-girlfriend in 2008. The restraining order was ultimately rescinded.
Then there was an incident in 2002, when Kemp was a 17-year-old high school student and a woman claimed Kemp was one of three men who forced sexual conduct on her. No arrests were made and no charges were filed.
“You can call police or whatever you want and they will tell you it wasn’t true and none of that stuff even happened,” Kemp said. “It was stuff that happened in the past, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You learn from your mistakes.”
Life on the baseball field has been smoother. Kemp has shown considerable improvement in each of his previous seven years in the Dodgers organization.
His breakout year came last season, when he batted .297 with 26 home runs, 101 RBIs and 34 steals to go along with his first-rate defense in center field. The MVP talk has already started for 2010.
“I embrace it and just play,” Kemp said about any predictions he might be considered the NL’s best this season. “That would be great if something like that would happen. You try to accomplish goals like that. But as long as I take care of what I can do and do what I can do I’m sure (talk) like that might happen.”
He refuses to be specific on his goals for the season, saying he writes them in a journal and will keep them private. The only insight he gives is that he wants to continue his trend of improving each season.
This offseason he spent time with the Angels’ Torii Hunter, as the two Southern California center fielders worked out together in the Dallas area. Kemp is now looking at buying a home there.
“I learned a lot from him because he plays the game right and plays hard,” Kemp said. “He’s a superstar.”
Ultimately, the people who figure to keep Kemp focused are the ones who have known him the longest. Living in Los Angeles can have its temptations, but Kemp said staying grounded isn’t an issue.
“I have family to help me out on that one so I’m good,” he said. “I have my grandma and my mom always calling to make sure everything is OK and that I’m keeping my head straight.”