Back in Oklahoma, Matthew was a good basketball player, a 6-foot-4 forward on a state champion Midwest City High School team. He dreamed of being an NBA shooting guard. However, although he was a solid college basketball prospect, he realized that baseball afforded him the best chance at a Major League career. (He didn't have the grades to get a college scholarship.)
The young Kemp grew up watching Atlanta Braves games and following his favorite players, like Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas. But basketball had a strong hold on him. He wanted to emulate Ray Allen and Michael Jordan.
"I really liked Thomas. I was a little bigger as a kid—a little chubby," Matt said. "They used to call me 'The Big Little Hurt.' Frank Thomas was my man when I was growing up."
Though Kemp's father and mother never married, Matt's formative years were spent with his Mom, Judy and her mother. Carl, Matt's Dad, also was there for his son throught his life. Their influence, and that of others in his life, have their imprint all over Kemp's success.
Judy worked two jobs to make ends meet and also tried to get a better life for her and her son. When she was pregnant with Matt, she was working as a nursing assistant and also at a restaurant. After her son was born, she went to school to become a registered nurse. If anyone wonders where that Beast Mode work ethic comes from, they need not look past Judy. Their life became more normal after she received her nursing degree, and was able to work normal hours. She was able to attend her son's athletic exploits.
"My Dad was there for me too," Matt said in 2012. "He's the one who got me into baseball and he's a big reason why I picked to play baseball."
"Not a lot of colleges contacted Matt to play basketball," Judy said. "There were so many more offers to play baseball. When he saw that I think that's when it hit him, 'I need to play baseball.'"
When Matt was 13, his Mom, Judy, gave birth to a second son, Tyler, who was born prematurely, weighing one pound, one ounce and without a set of fully developed lungs. But Tyler fought on well past any doctor's expectations.
On the days that Judy would leave at dawn to be by Tyler's side at the hospital, not coming home until after dark, Kemp got himslef to school, did the cooking and finished his homework alone.
Tyler died shortly after his first birthday.
- Looking back, Kemp now realizes how little he knew when he signed with the Dodgers in 2003, giving up his primary sport of basketball. He said he never was a student of the game, it was just something he played when it wasn't basketball season. He hadn't developed his throwing arm, wasn't a fast runner and hadn't developed a hitting approach.
He showed up on the Dodgers radar by accident, according to White, who joined scout Mike Leuzinger at a tournament looking to see a hyped left-handed pitcher who never made it. White, however, liked the right fielder with the "baby fat," was confident Kemp would make the switch from basketball and signed him for $130,000.
"To be honest, I was a little naive, but I did some research and figured he could play Division I basketball, but he wasn't going to play in the NBA," said White. "He was mid-range—not tall enough to be a big man and not small enough to be a ball handler. We drafted him and went to his home, met his mom and he signed quickly. But the first year, I would get a lot of voice messages. 'Don't know about this Matt Kemp kid. Very long swing.' He hit .240 that first year, one home run in the last game of the season, two stolen bases. That first year, he was homesick, miserable. The next year, he started to show he could be special." (Ken Gurnick-MLB.com-June 23, 2011)
Kemp is built more like a tight end in football than a skinny basketball player. And Matt is extraordinarily athletic. He can not only dunk a basketball but also leap, pass the ball between his legs and then slam it, a move that most baseball players couldn't execute in a video game.
Matt's athleticism inspires his teammates and coaches to wax both superlative and poetic. "There are only two guys I would put in the same category as Matt Kemp as far as athletic ability," says Brad Ausmus, who last fall retired as a Dodger after 18 years as a major league catcher. "One would be Bo Jackson, and two would be Carlos Beltran. The one thing that they can do that most ballplayers can't is this: They can do everything.
"His upside is unlimited, and his downside is probably his 2010 season," said Ausmus late in the 2011 season. "If Matt can squeeze every ounce of ability out of his body for the next 15 years, we'll be looking at a Hall of Famer."
Mike Leuzinger is the scout for the Dodgers who signed Kemp.
In 2005, Matt's 27 home runs and a .590 slugging percentage were Vero Beach franchise records.
After the 2005 season, Kemp played in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .383 with a .606 slugging percentage.
Catcher Russell Martin spent some time with Kemp in the minors. Those were fun days, Matt at one point cramming as many as five teammates in a three-bedroom house by partitioning off parts of the living room.
During the off-season before 2006 spring training, Baseball America rated Matt as 8th-best prospect in the Dodgers organization. (They had him at #28 in the spring of 2005.)
- Matt has a good attitude and work ethic. And he has a great big smile.
Kemp is real thankful for getting to play Major League Baseball. "I'm not real demonstrative on the field, that's not who I am, and I'm not going to change that," he said. "I'm not going to throw my helmet to convince people that I care about the game."
When Matt touches home plate after a home run, he pumps his chest with both fists, and points to the sky to show how grateful he is for his many blessings. He also is saluting his late brother, Tyler.
When Matt was in 8th grade, two-year-old Tyler passed away after battling illness that was brought on by his being born premature with underdeveloped lungs. Kemp has his younger brother's name tattooed on his left shoulder as a tribute.
"He was a big part of my life before he passed away, and I always give him thanks," Matt said. (Jorge Martin-Dodgers Magazine-August 2007)
During the winter before 2008 spring training, Matt dropped nearly 20 pounds working out in Arizona with fitness guru Mack Newton.
But in the winter before 2009 spring camp opened, Kemp spent most of the winter in Los Angeles. The kid from Oklahoma worked out with a track coach. His early mornings were spent in Encino with his personal hitting coach, former Dodger Reggie Smith.
During 2009 spring training, Kemp received a new pair of contact lenses that corrected his 20/30 vision and an astigmatism, making the ball clearer.
Matt is not a guy who will be hindered by complacency. He says, "I always want more. You just do. I think people should feel like they should get better every year."
Why? Kemp points to his parents who never got married, but strove together to support him.
His father, Carl Kemp, used to read electric meters and climb poles for Oklahoma Gas & Electric. He now holds a management position in the same company. His mother, Judy Henderson, is a nurse. She always took him to baseball and basketball practice. And she worked long hours, sometimes the night shift, sometimes two jobs.
"They worked from the bottom up and now they're pretty successful," Kemp says.
Whenever Matt goes home to Oklahoma and visits with his younger half-brother, Carlton, he gets a sobering reminder that for all of his ability on a baseball diamond, there are still some things he can't do.
Carlton has an acute case of autism.
"It's pretty severe," Kemp said. "It affects his speech, and it affects his ability to play with other kids. It's like a kid having the life sucked out of him."
Matt bought his mother a house and a Mercedes.
Kemp has a special place in his heart for his 71-year-old (in 2011) grandmother, Doris Mukes, a dressmaker in Oklahoma. She calls with a reprimand whenever she sees him curse on the TV he bought her, and begs him to stop acquiring tattoos.
"I tell him, 'You've got this beautiful body, and you mar it all up,'" Doris says. "I keep hearing about last year, when he wasn't focused. I think all this was happening to him all of a sudden, and he got too involved in outside things. I tell him, 'You've accomplished so much, but you're not there yet.'"
Kemp got a lot of ink during the offseason before 2010 spring training because of his involvement with R&B singer Rihanna.
The two vacationed in Cabo and were courtside at a Lakers game. The relationship got Matt more air-time on TMZ than on the MLB Network or ESPN. He dated the Barbadian pop star in 2010, but they spit up, amiably, in December 2010.
Matt lost 10 pounds before 2011 spring training, just by eating right. "No beef. A lot of chicken, fish, turkey. I was listening to Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens explain why he was in the NFL so long, because he eats right. I want to play till I can't play no more," Kemp said.
Kemp tinkered with more than his diet and weight coming off a tumultuous 2010. He worked on his quickness and stamina with a track and field coach at Arizona State University.
In 2011, players and coaches voted Kemp the Dodgers' Roy Campanella Award winner, which goes to the Dodger who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership of Campanella, the late Hall of Fame catcher.
In 2011, Matt was named the Baseball America Player of the Year.
During the offseason before 2012 spring training, the support of Torii Hunter and his family during visits to Hunter's home in Prosper, Texas, were an ongoing inspiration to Kemp.
"It's a beautiful place," Matt, an Oklahoman born and raised, said. "My hometown is about a two and a half hour drive from Torii's place. Torii's my bro, and Katrina (Hunter's wife) is like a big sister to me.
"Torii was somebody I looked up to as a youngster. When I came to the big leagues, he became one of my best friends. He's taught me a lot—about life and baseball. They've got me wanting to purchase land in Texas. It's really quiet down there. When I settle down and get married, have a family, it'd be a nice place to live."
Matt lives in a gated, four-bedroom house tucked away in the Hollywood Hills, down the road from Leo DiCaprio's pad and the Van Diesel compound.There's a Bentley and an Aston Martin in the garage, a sparkling pool in back, and, inside the master-bedroom closets, a collection of shoes that would make Imelda Marcos faint (from retro Air Jordans to the latest $1,000 Christian Louboutins). (Albert Chen-SI-5/28/12)
In 2013 he was selected to be one of the two players to have his picture put on the cover of "Big League Chew" brand of chewing gum. The other player was Cole Hamels.
Matt made his MLB debut on May 28, 2006.
He was an All-Star in 2011 and 2012.
A boy in a wheelchair who was watching the Dodgers-Giants game in San Francisco on May 5, 2013 will never forget the generosity of Matt Kemp. After the game, Kemp jogged over to where Joshua Jones was sitting and signed a baseball. Then he gave him his hat, his jersey, and even his shoes.
Here is the background of the story:
1. Joshua and his father, Steve Jones, were in the front-row seats at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
2. The father struck up a conversation with Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach. He said his son was very sick, that he was a Dodgers fan, and that his favorite player was Kemp. The boy, who has cancer, is unable to speak.
3. Wallach brought them a baseball and later told Kemp about Joshua.
4. When Kemp made the last out of the game, he and Wallach walked toward the boy. Joshua's friend, Tommy Schultz, turned the camera on to record the amazing moments.
May 22, 2013: Native Oklahoman Kemp, who quickly pledged a donation after the devastating tornado near his Oklahoma City hometown, upped the commitment on Wednesday.
"Dear Families of OKC, on Monday, out of concern and emotion I committed $1,000 for every home run I hit until the All-Star Break. It was a quick and small gesture in advance of what I knew would be my greater contribution through your rebuilding process. I am keeping my pledge and in addition, donating $250,000. May God bless you through this and the many generous donations coming to your aid." – Kemp via Twitter. #PrayforOklahoma"
July 23, 2013: The day after Brewers OF Ryan Braun was suspended for the rest of the season, guilty of taking steroids/Hgh, etc., Kemp would not say that the 2011 National League MVP Award should be given to him, but did say it should be taken from Braun.
"Do I feel like it should be stripped? I mean, yeah, I do," Kemp said. "I feel like it should be, but that's not for me to decide, you know? That's not for me to decide."
Kemp said he was "disappointed" with Braun, who had insisted of his innocence until July 22, 2013, when he accepted suspension without pay for the rest of this season and apologized for his "mistakes."
"You don't like getting lied to," Kemp said. "A lot of people feel the same way. I'm sure I'm but another on that list."
Kemp had defended Braun when the initial news broke of a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs, which was overturned by an arbitrator. So now that Braun has accepted a suspension for the remainder of the season, does Kemp feel he should get Braun's MVP?
"I was in the race for MVP and got second," he said. "The voters had their opinion of who they wanted to pick as MVP. You have to respect who they picked. It is what it is. For me, all I can worry about is getting healthy. It definitely would be nice to have an MVP trophy, but I didn't win the MVP. I was second."
Matt said Major League Baseball is "doing a good job cleaning up the game." He said the accomplishments of clean players are being tarnished by those who break the rules.
"As a player who never took PEDs or steroids, it's upsetting that [those who do take banned substances] take away from those guys who bust their butts in the gym and play the game clean," he said. "We're all grown men who make our own decisions what we put in our bodies, we know what's right and what's wrong. MLB can't make people stay clean."
Kemp said suspicions that Baltimore slugger Chris Davis is succeeding for reasons other than his talent are "upsetting."
"Don't take away from somebody doing a great job," he said. "Davis always had the ability to hit home runs. Now he's just figured it out. But people are tearing him down, saying he's doing something, and that's unfair to him and the Baltimore organization."
Kemp struggled through a tough camp in 2014 spring, recovering from ankle and shoulder surgery. When the Dodgers left to open the season against the D-backs in Australia, Kemp stayed back to continue his rehab. It was enough to try a person's soul.
"I just got through it, man," Kemp said. "I just kept praying and God got me through it. It was just a time in my life when nothing was really going the way I wanted it to go. We all have road blocks that we have to overcome, and that was one of those little road blocks."
In Spring Training 2015, everything is different. In recent years with the Dodgers, Kemp was moody, recalcitrant and unavailable to comment much of the time. When he answered questions, he had a tendency to be curt.
It turns out there was a good reason. Kemp was always hurt. Now, as the Padres are preparing for what very well may be a breakout season, the much more mature 30-year-old is relatively healthy.
"I think that's what it is, I have my health," Kemp mused. "It was just something I had to fight through. It was frustrating at times. Now I feel like I'm back to where I need to be. I feel great. I'm happy about feeling healthy and what's to come."(Bloom – mlb.com – 3/19/15)
Matt was playing some baseball against the Rangers. And in attendance to watch her son hit a home run, make a diving catch or just be a really cool, smooth guy, was Kemp's mom, Judy Henderson. But instead of any of these things, in the sixth inning, Mrs. Henderson watched her son have a mid-at-bat belt malfunction: his belt came undone! Fortunately, Mom also saw Kemp's double in the third inning. The Padres won the game. (Monagan - mlb.com - 9/1/15)
September 25, 2015: The students in Janet Nees' third-grade class at Hilltop Elementary had just finished writing about their favorite famous person. As a die-hard Padres fan, Daniel Elizarde of Chula Vista, Calif., wrote about his favorite player, Matt Kemp.
Minutes later, the door to the classroom opened, and in walked Kemp. Elizarde -- typically one of the chattiest kids in class, according to his mother -- was left speechless. Kemp surprised Nees' class with a visit after Elizarde was chosen as the winner of a back to school style contest; Elizarde's mother had submitted a photo of him in front of Kemp's picture at the team store at Petco Park.
"I wish when I was growing up, Frank Thomas would've walked into my classroom and surprised me," Kemp said with a smile. "I wasn't as fortunate as my little friend, Daniel, but it's good to see him enjoying himself, and I think he got some cool points from his friends."
After Kemp's arrival, he and Elizarde sat at the front of the classroom, while the students asked Kemp questions. Those questions ranged from, "How many home runs have you hit?" (23) to "What's your favorite moment?" (getting his big league callup).
"It really inspires kids," Kemp said. "It motivates them, and it makes their day. Especially, they might be going through a tough time. ... It might change their life around or just change their day and make them happy."
"It's incredible," Nees said. "It created a lot of writing opportunities for us. We need more of this -- people coming in from the community and interacting with the kids. It's a special day."
But Kemp wasn't the only one bringing the surprises. Halfway through the event, Daniel was called aside and given a birthday cake to present to Kemp, who turned 31 earlier in the week. The class broke out into a rendition of "Happy Birthday." Afterward, Elizarde's mother, Renee Cuevas, said she figures her son "will be talking about this forever." (AJ Cassavell - MLB.com - September 26, 2015)
March 18, 2016: Matt Kemp has put forth a pretty solid big league career with the number 27 on his back. He has 205 homers to his name, a second-place MVP Award finish, a pair of Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and an .833 lifetime OPS.
But it'll be hard to top his Cactus League batting average when he's wearing 94 instead: a clean 1.000.
The Padres' right fielder left his jersey at San Diego's Spring Training facility in Peoria before the game against the Giants. The club retrieved it from his locker and rushed it to Scottsdale Stadium, but not in time for Kemp's first at-bat of the night - a single to right field.
Kemp re-emerged in his next at-bat with his "old" jersey No. 27. (AJ Cassavell - MLB.com - March 19, 2016)
Matt made a guest appearance on the TV show "Sesame Street" in 2013. (Intentional Talk interview - 2016)
Sept 16, 2016: The Turner Field crowd roared and Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy applauded, but it wasn't until Matt Kemp looked up at the center-field scoreboard that he realized why.
After leading off the bottom of the second inning with a double off Max Scherzer, the Braves outfielder turned around and saw the message on the screen congratulating him on the 1,500th hit of his Major League career.
"I honestly did not know I was that close to 1,500 hits," said Kemp after the 7-2 loss to the Nationals. "I don't think people really look at that. I just looked at the JumboTron and was like, 'Wow, OK. Cool.' "For me, I just thought I needed 1,500 more."
The double marked Kemp's fourth hit in 37 career at-bats vs. Scherzer. And with it, the 31-year-old became just the 32nd active player to join the 1,500-hit club.
"He's been great," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He's been having a heck of a year. Any time you're going to have 30 [homers] and 100 [RBIs], it's been a pretty good year. I've said a million times what he's added to our lineup, but he's just having a really good year." (P James - MLB.com - Sept 17, 2016)
Matt still remembers his Little League days. Those memories resurfaced on June 8, 2017, when Kemp visited the Samuel L. Jones Boys & Girls club to meet with metro Atlanta youth at the Junior Braves RBI clinic.
"It's fun -- and it kind of brings you back to your childhood, when you are on a baseball field having dreams of being in the Major Leagues," Kemp said. "To just be around all these kids is an enjoyment, and I love it. I like coming out here."
Kemp took part in several baseball drills with the kids, including taking a few grounders along the left-field line. He also gave a couple of baseball tips and spoke on the importance of school and education.
The Boys & Girls Club had nine of their 12 Junior Braves teams in attendance to interact with Kemp. The Braves hosted the event, and most kids were happy to ask questions about the game and what it's like to be a MLB player.
"It was really cool to see him interact with the kids and actually be in the drills taking ground balls and showing some hitting and throwing skills he had," Boys & Girls Club regional youth development specialist Aaron Quinney said.
After the clinic, Kemp stayed around to take photos and sign autographs with the kids. He preached the value of getting a good education and going to college. Kemp also told the youth that baseball can open door for future success.
"Some of these kids dream is to play baseball," Kemp said. "A lot of them play football and basketball, but baseball gives you the same opportunities to go to school and provide for your family." (Thompson - mlb.com - 6/8/17)
June 27, 2018: MLB denied Matt Kemp's appeal of a one-game suspension, which he will serve by missing the Dodgers-Cubs night game.
"It is what it is," said Kemp. "I'll serve my game, come back tomorrow and try to get a win. I'll be watching the game from the house and play a 12 o'clock game and be ready for that and it's over."
Kemp and Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos were suspended one game and fined an undisclosed amount for a shoving match after a plate collision on June 13. Chirinos served the suspension, but Kemp appealed and the hearing took place.
July 2018 : Kemp was selected to play in the MLB All-Star game.
Sept 20, 2018: The Dodgers are on an incredible run and have opened up their largest lead in the National League West all season. So, on his off-day, Matt Kemp took a break from his usual routine of watching TV to hang out with Jimmy Kimmel. Dressed in a pair of black Capri pants, black jacket and one of those effortless, surely-incredibly-expensive white T-shirts that fashion bloggers say are a must have, Kemp discussed his offseason workout regime (how much weight did he lose? "Enough"), Yasiel Puig's antics. and what it's like to play in front of the Dodgers' fans.
Perhaps most interesting was the story he told about when he learned he had been traded back to L.A. in the offseason.
"I was at lunch with a bunch of friends, and one of our friends was about to propose to his girlfriend. He was trying to plan out how he was going to do it. I got a call from my agent who told me I got traded. I asked him where and he started laughing and, I'm like 'What?' and he said, 'You're going back to the Dodgers,' so I started fist pumping."
The show also came on the heels of Matt Kemp bobblehead day and Kemp and Kimmel debated over how lifelike the figurine was. Kemp said that it was pretty spot on as they captured the pine tar on the back of the jersey and even the green eyes. (M Clair - MLB.com - Sept 21, 2018)
June 2003: The Dodgers chose him in the 6th round, out of Midwest City High School in Oklahoma.
January 15, 2010: Kemp and the Dodgers agreed on a two-year, $10.95 million contract, avoiding two winters of arbitration eligibility. Matt can also gain up to $600,000 in additional incentives based on plate appearances.
November 15, 2011: Matt signed an eight-year, $160 million extension with the Dodgers.
December 11, 2014: The Dodgers sent Matt Kemp, C Tim Federowicz, and $31 million (to cover part of Kemp's remaining $107 million salary) to the Padres. San Diego gave up catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitchers Joe Wieland and Zach Elfin.
July 30, 2016: The Padres traded Kemp and cash to the Braves for LF Hector Olivera.
Dec 16, 2017: Atlanta Braves traded LF Matt Kemp to Los Angeles Dodgers for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Brandon McCarthy, SS Charlie Culberson and cash.
Dec 21, 2018: The Dodgers traded RF Yasiel Puig, LF Matt Kemp, LHP Alex Wood, C Kyle Farmer and cash to Cincinnati Reds for RHP Homer Bailey, SS Jeter Downs and RHP Josiah Gray.
May 4, 2019: The Reds released Matt.
- May 24, 2019: The Mets organization signed free agent Kemp.
July 12, 2019: The Mets released Matt from Syracuse.