In a season where even a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies seems to send starving fans into a euphoric state, it's not surprising that a trade for veteran outfielder Matt Kemp -- whose last two employers paid to get rid of him -- is being hailed by some as a major moment in this Braves' rebuilding project.
But then this comes at a time when the Hawks have decided to bank their future on Dwight Howard and the Falcons hope 36-year-old Dwight Freeney can fix their pass rush. So consider it Atlanta's summer of ... hope?
Say this for Kemp. He's not the almost-MVP he played like in 2011 but he still has some power and, after acknowledging that his reputationi had suffered some dings in recent seasons for a questionable attitude, he is going to great lengths to ingratiate himself to the Braves' tormented fan base. He wrote recently in The Players Tribune about growing up a Braves fan in Oklahoma and reiterated Tuesday that walking into the home clubhouse at Turner Field and putting on the Braves' hat and jersey was "like a dream come true."
Seldom do "dream come true" and "37-68" intersect for a team in the same season but Kemp is looking for a new beginning (again) and the Braves are grasping for any positive news story possible. After seeing Kemp's blog go viral the other day, the marketing department decided to have a "Matt Kemp 2-Day Flash Sale." Playing off Kemp's uniform No. 27, the Braves were offering two outfield seats for $7 any game of the Braves-Pittsburgh series through Thursday.
When a team ranks 25th in major league attendance, it will pretty much try anything (although Hector Olivera Night, where a fan could get it for $1.14, matching his Gwinnett batting average, never materialized).
Kemp says he wants baseball to be fun again. Somehow, things got sideways a bit after consecutive All-Star seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers (2011-12), after which he signed an eight-year, $160 million contract. He also dated Rihanna.
But Kemp wrote in a remarkably candid part of his blog on The Players Tribune:
"After taking some time to reflect on my career, and the ups and downs I’ve experienced since my MVP-caliber season in 2011, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I had begun to lose some of my love for the game. In so many ways, I got sidetracked from what I loved most about playing the game of baseball — having fun. I let a big contract, the Hollywood lifestyle, injuries and bad relationships tarnish the reputation I had worked so hard to establish. Sadly, I gained a reputation for being selfish, lazy and a bad teammate. While I may not agree with all the criticism I received in the past few years —and while I believe that a lot of it was unmerited — I take full responsibility for my shortcomings."
Kemp didn't quite say he misquoted himself Tuesday when he met the Atlanta media. But he wasn't nearly as forthcoming.
• On being affected by the big contract, as seemingly acknowledged in the aforementioned excerpt: "No, the contract didn’t affect me. Just injuries. Sometimes when you get injured it’s hard to get back to where you need to be."
• On criticism: "It’s just stuff that’s out there. It’s not stuff that I all agree with. But (with) stuff that’s out there, I don’t want people to wonder about me as a person. I’m here to be a good teammate and to help lead these guys in the right direction and I’m excited about this new journey."
• But didn't you acknowledge some criticism was warranted? "I’m just going to take it. You have to take it. It is what it is."
OK. Moving on.
Kemp went 0-for-4 with a walk in his Braves' debut, striking out to end a 5-3 loss to Pittsburgh. He went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position.
Before the game, Kemp said baseball ceased being fun at times but he attributed most of that to injuries (hips, shoulder, ankle, hamstring, almost everything in between).
"It’s not fun being on the DL or playing with an injury. I don’t think people understand what baseball players go through," he said. "They might be hurt or there might be personal problems. But we’re all human."
The Braves and San Diego swapped expensive mistakes. But at least Kemp is a proven hitter, unlike Hector Olivera, and he's not facing criminal charges, also unlike Olivera.
The Braves' front office has tried to spin the numbers but here's all you need to know: The Braves are paying Kemp $54 million of Kemp's $64.5 million in salaries from 2017 to 2019. If you don't get that, go back and read between the lines of Coppy-speak.
That means Kemp needs to be provide some highlights amid all of the gloom of 2016 -- and potentially more next season.
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