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T.J. SIMERS

Dodgers' Matt Kemp is the picture of a great player

Kemp has matured into one of the game's best players, but he's not the MVP for this season.

September 27, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp's dedication to the game has made him a clubhouse leader and one of the most dominant players in baseball.
Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp's dedication to the game has made… (Christian Petersen / Getty…)

From Phoenix — When Matt Kemp mentions his mother has watched a Simers/plaschke video on The Times' website, I'm expecting him to tell me Plaschke frightens his mother.

But he says his mother tells him I don't think he should win the MVP award, and she's got that right.

"Tell your mom I think Ryan Braun should win it, but also tell her I love the changes you've made this year."

"Write that, Kemp says, "She will read it.

And so we continue on as we have for six years, trading barbs, sometimes the darts hitting home with a sting, and sometimes it's just one generation educating another.

"You don't have no swag," Kemp says while looking down at my New Balance gym shoes. "You have no style; your shoes are whack. There are cool New Balance shoes, but not those."

He's big into shoes, telling a reporter for Flaunt magazine recently he likes women who are willing to go shopping with him. Talk about being whack.

"I love looking and seeing what kind of shoes women wear," he says in the magazine. "I think that tells me if a person knows what they're doing."

Now go ahead and follow that up with another question inside the Dodgers' clubhouse.

He laughs, and he's been doing a lot of that this year, the relaxing change that Mom should know more about — way beyond the gaudy baseball numbers that almost have him becoming baseball's first triple crown winner in forever.

"I'm happy," he says. "I promised myself this year I was not going to let anything get in my way of being successful. I had a talk with myself. I didn't want to feel the way I felt last year."

Last season he was a tortured mess, a .249 hitter, and his agent was telling the fans of L.A. they didn't matter.

But now Kemp is the Dodgers' great hope, along with Clayton Kershaw, for better days ahead.

"I want to appear on 'Late Night' along with my World Series teammates," Kemp says. "I want to visit President Obama."

So where does he want to be traded?

"One of my main goals is being a winner, being the last man standing after winning it all," he says with a grin. "And I want to stay here. This is home. I can't see myself playing for anybody else. I only know blue; I've never worn different color cleats in my life."

The Dodgers hold Kemp's rights into next season, but if they don't sign him to a long-range deal, teams are going to line up wanting to make him rich.

"I want to be in a place where I think you can win. I think this is the place. We're going to make it happen. I have faith. Do you have faith in this team?"

"None whatsoever under present ownership," I said.

The Dodgers have two of the game's best players and it wasn't enough to make them more than an average team because beyond Kemp and Kershaw there's a Grand Canyon drop-off.

"You're a hater," Kemp says, and if I had a dollar for every time he's called me that, I would be earning the kind of money Kemp is soon going to get.

"You think Kershaw shouldn't win the Cy Young," he says with a snap to his voice. "You're crazy. That's a stupid opinion. Hater."

"Now when I say hater, I'm not saying hate," Kemp explains. "Haters are people that doubt you. And haters make you better. They give you the drive to be even better. When you're doing all those workouts in the off-season, sweating, bleeding and whatever, you're thinking about all the bad things said about you and trying to get better so they can't be said again.

"And I was thinking about you."

Funny, but I don't think Kemp will be asking me to pose with him for helping him win the MVP award.

As incredible as his numbers are now, they are right there with the enthusiasm he brings to the game. He's also become a leader in the clubhouse. The turnaround is a credit to his off-season commitment to improve.

"I'm not going to lie; I was upset with myself last year," Kemp says. "There are a lot of roadblocks to overcome. But every time people think I can't overcome them, most of the time there is a change of heart."

As long as no one tells him, it's been a treat to witness greatness in the making over the last six years. I told him he had the talent to be one of the game's 10 best players early on, but I had it all wrong. Right now he might be the best; just not the MVP.

"Hater," he says, his way of also saying, "hello."

How many others thought they would never see this out of Kemp?

The Dodgers were batting him eighth a few years back, and now he's getting the same hometown treatment as Kobe Bryant.

And he finds that "unbelievable."

Kemp admires the way Kobe plays. He's been in Staples when the crowd chants, "MVP," and admits he thought for just a moment last week how incredible it was to hear the same thing Kobe has been hearing so often.

Kemp has come a long way, all right, now getting his own photo shoot just like Kobe. You remember the white scarf over Kobe's head, the white ensemble and how ridiculous he looked.

Kemp tops Kobe. In one photo, Kemp is wearing a wet T-shirt, short-shorts, and well you have to see it.

"I knew you'd point out that one," says Kemp. "My mom says it was a good picture. There's a good looking young man. That's what she said to me."

"Tell your mom I think you look silly," I said, while everyone else can go to flaunt.com.

Is this swag?

"I love when you love me, and I love when you hate on me," Kemp says.

"It's a love-love relationship."

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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