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Kemp is in fast lane on road to greatness

April 14, 2010|T.J. SIMERS

It's happening right before you, year after year and now almost hour by hour, the growth of greatness, 25-year-old Matt Kemp collecting a Gold Glove before the Dodgers opener, pausing for a moment so they could then hand him a Silver Slugger Award.

"He's special," teammate Casey Blake says. "I'm envious how good he is at such a young age. He's going to have to build a bigger house for all the awards he's going to be getting."

Now ordinarily it is Blake's needling job "to keep Kemp from getting a big head," but it's a tough job.

"The home run he hit was impressive," Blake says, the Dodgers winning, 9-5, "but that last at-bat he barely gets a piece of a 2-0 fastball, just flailing at it, and the pitcher comes back with a curve. Now as a hitter I know that's the last pitch he's going to throw, but he does and Kemp drills it into right-center. Just amazing."

Amazing is now an everyday occurrence for Kemp, and with the help of a translator once Leno and Letterman call him for appearances, Dodgers fans are in for so many more highlights.

"That's my dog," Kemp says, and there isn't even a stuffed animal in his locker, so who knows what he's talking about. "He's got swag, he's got flavor, he's got rhythm."

And I have no idea who he's talking about.

"He's got jelly," Kemp says, and as it turns out, he's talking about Blake, a guy who might very well be packing homemade jelly from grandma back home in Iowa.

At first glance maybe they are the odd couple, the bubbly, street-wise, confident kid and the Iowa duck-killing hick, but it's another example of greatness taking root.

Some people gravitate to trouble, others to mentors and in this case the Dodgers are beneficiaries because "I look at him as a leader, and someone who plays the game the right way," Kemp says of Blake.

Now maybe it was just by accident, during the off-season the team selecting quotes from former Dodgers greats and hanging them above the players' lockers, Jackie Robinson finding a home where Kemp sits.

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives," it reads, and while it's still so early and there's time for missteps, Kemp seems open so far to following such a roadmap.

"I'm standing out there when they give me this [Gold Glove] and I'm thinking about when I was a kid and just dreaming like any kid would about stuff like this," he says. "It's so cool, but I don't want to get too cocky.

"And I won't because my family won't let me. They were here today, and they will make sure I stay grounded."

Hard to stay grounded, though, when they are giving Kemp various "this or that" choices on the scoreboard in a taped interview, getting around to " Beyonce or Rihanna?" and one of them really is his girlfriend.

But things are going so well for him, that while initially answering, "no comment," the Gold Glove recipient catches himself and gets it right.

"Rihanna," he says, no doubt later having to explain to the Iowa hick who she is.

AS FOR those inspirational quotes above the players' lockers, one of Rick Monday's quotes covers something like half the room, Charley Steiner apparently not available to interrupt and cut him short.

IT'S A good thing Manny Ramirez was suspended for drugs, needing a back door to avoid the media last season. As a result, when he chose to sneak out of the stadium after the opener, he knew where the back door was located.

TWO HOURS before the first pitch, stadium workers were spotted bolting Frank McCourt's seat into the cement in the owner's box. It was either that, or they were putting the owner's box back together after removing someone else's seat.

BY THE way, the Fabulous Forum asked the question which team has the best owner, the Dodgers with Frank and/or Jamie McCourt or the Angels with Arte Moreno. The results were surprisingly lopsided in favor of Moreno, and I only voted three times.

Moreno drew 95% of the vote (1,252), and the McCourts pulled in 71 votes. Had all their lawyers voted, the results might have been much more even.

LAST SEASON, Ramirez could be spotted on occasion smelling his bat. He explained later you could smell it burning after hitting a ball hard.

But I wonder. Blake DeWitt was smelling his bat before the opener and asked me to do the same. It smelled like lacquer, or something freshly varnished, begging the question: Was Manny just getting high while smelling his bat?

HERE'S ONE to ponder: The Rams may be returning to the Los Angeles area in 2015 under the ownership of Stan Kroenke, who owns the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.

Kroenke bought 40% of the Rams when they moved to St. Louis, and in somewhat of a surprise, exercised his option to buy the remaining 60% from Georgia Frontiere's kids on Sunday night.

Kroenke has some work to do to satisfy NFL cross-ownership rules, but he owns a home in the L.A. area, took an interest, along with business partner John Elway, in owning an expansion team in L.A. a few years back, and still counts John Shaw, who engineered the Rams' move to St. Louis, as one of his good friends.

And Shaw has it arranged so the Rams can move again in 2015 if St. Louis doesn't provide the team with a new stadium.

The Los Angeles Rams. Now how does that sound?

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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