Matt Kemp cuts a dashing figure at the All-Star game. ()
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

How did this Kemp thing happen?

I just don’t get this Kemp fellow.

His current standing in the world stuns me. His sudden and surprising transformation into something of a people’s choice has left me gobsmacked.

Just a year ago, he was, on the whole, bad for Atlanta and thus bad for Georgia. You wouldn’t have trusted him to get out of bed without hurting something. Now he’s as popular as a tax cut. As sturdy as state-capitol stone.

When he shows up in Atlanta on Thursday, it will be a triumphant appearance. His numbers are those of an unstoppable force.

To be clear, this is Matt Kemp we’re talking about. Any resemblance to any other Kemp, alive or dead, is purely coincidental. 

The player formerly known as Mr. Salary Dump plays his first series in Atlanta since being dispatched by the Braves back to the L.A. Dodgers for some other contracts they didn’t want. Everyone made out in the deal. The Dodgers got back a player who flipped on his want-to switch, and decided to take this athlete thing seriously again. The Braves got Charlie Culberson, and a much-needed vacant spot where Ronald Acuna might play.

The Kemp who will take up left field at SunTrust Park in the four-game series vs. the Braves bears little resemblance to the one we last saw there. His story really is one of the more fascinating revival tales of this baseball season. Too bad it had to play out for somebody else.

Kemp at 33 is playing at near the level he was back in 2011, when he was hitting .324 with 39 homers and almost won a MVP award. He hasn’t had an OPS number (.900) this high in a half-dozen years.

In the field, we’re told he’s not resembling a tranquilized wildebeest nearly as much as he used to. In Atlanta at the end, his hamstrings were tripwires that went off at any hint of exertion (limiting him to 115 games in 2017). He must be stretching better now. Thus far in ’18, he has appeared in 97 of the Dodgers 101 games.  

Oh, and Kemp’s also a paragon of baseball virtue, having just won the Dodgers portion of the Heart & Hustle Award. That one is given out by the Major League Players Alumni Association to those who “demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game.”

Those in Atlanta with a generous spirit should really celebrate how Kemp has rediscovered the joy that comes with becoming wealthy while playing a game. Everybody wants their ex to find happiness, right?

It all started this spring, after Kemp had gone through a third trade by a team that just wanted to shed him like dead skin (Dodgers I, Padres and Braves). He’s got more people paying him than Georgia Power.  

Kemp had this revelation: Maybe if he whipped himself in shape, and really stuck to it this time, it would benefit someone who made his living with his body. Just the kind of professional approach you’d like to think was transferrable to any address. 

Once he got back to his happy place, back in California where the streets are paved with rolled oats, Kemp reportedly dropped nearly 50 pounds. And unlike his time in Atlanta, he seems more intent upon keeping the weight off. Perhaps the Braves should consider taking down that all-you-can-eat fried pork rind trough in the clubhouse.

This version of Kemp has played very well with the public, too. The fans spoke loudly and elected him to start for the National League in the All-Star game – a return to the Classic after a long absence. 

I know I didn’t vote for him.     

About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.

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