Major League Baseball isn’t the most sensational pro sport around but the L.A. Dodgers have done their part to spark interest. With the messy McCourt divorce, the bankruptcy filing, and Magic Johnson becoming one of the new team owners, the franchise has seen more drama and change than your baby’s mama and the diapers on that illegitimate kid she’s lugging around. One man in Dodger blue who hasn’t let the front office soap opera get to him is Matt Kemp.
Coming off a season full of career highs, Kemp is poised to lead the legendary franchise, both this season and beyond. We caught up with the All-Star outfielder to talk about his new $160 million contract, the state of the team, and what it’s like dating celebrities (Hi, Rihanna *Royce da 5’9” voice*). So, as the Dodgers prepare for the 2012 season opener (April 5 @ San Diego), check out our interview with the current face of the franchise.
Interview by Ralph Warner (@SoloWarnerBro)
The 2010 and 2011 seasons were basically polar opposites for you. 2010 was a struggle and 2011 was a huge success. What were the differences in each season?
In 2010, I really just had a bad season, there are no excuses. That basically sums up 2010; it was just a really frustrating season for me.
What was the low point of that season?
It was a pretty down year most of the year for me. Some people would consider that a pretty good season, but for me, it was a down season on top of having a losing record. Just [being] inconsistent, I couldn’t do my job the way I wanted to.
Your name was often heard in trade rumors that year. Did that have any effect on you?
Nah, I don’t really listen to trade rumors too much. Things like that are out of your hands, out of your control. The only things that I can control are on the field, I can’t worry about anything else.
What was the high point of 2011?
Going into spring training feeling the way I was feeling. I felt stronger. I felt faster. I knew it was going to be a good season. I didn’t want to let my fans down in 2011 like I did in 2010. What I was focusing on was being consistent and that’s what I was doing in 2011—being consistent, having good at bats and trying to make it happen.
The Dodgers have gone through some turmoil over the last few years. There was the whole bankruptcy issue and McCourt divorce drama, what were your thoughts when all of that was going on?
[His test] has nothing to do with [being the] MVP in my book. He won it, the voters voted and Ryan Braun is your MVP.
That didn’t really affect me at all. Frank McCourt is a great guy. It’s been nothing but respect between me and the organization. Because [when] he was going through what he was going through, I put myself in a situation where I said those things are off the field and we can’t really control that. We gotta go out there every day, 162 games, and try to win baseball games. We can’t worry about bankruptcy and who’s going to be our owner.
OK, and considering that you’ve spent five years with the organization, did you see any of this coming?
I don’t really think that you can see anything like that coming. I mean, we were in the NLCS two years in a row [2008 and 2009]. We were a few games away from making it to the World Series. With the way we were winning, it was a shock to a lot of people, especially the fans.
You signed your $160 million contract after that was all settled. Did you see yourself staying with the team despite the front office drama?
Yeah, of course. L.A. is the team that believed in me, the team that called me up, that give me a chance in the big leagues. I’ve worn nothing but a Dodger uniform my whole career. So, I really couldn’t see myself wearing another jersey. If I was going to go into free agency, I would have definitely given the Dodgers a chance to sign me back. I couldn’t really see myself playing for another team, that would be kind of weird.
Going back to the end of this season—you finished second in the MVP race to Ryan Braun. What were your thoughts when you heard that he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone?
I was shocked because he’s actually a friend of mine. He’s one of my favorite players, someone that I love to watch play. If I had to sum it up in one word it’s shocked.
Have you spoken to him or seen him since that test was made public?
I actually haven’t talked to him, but I’m sure we’ll have a couple conversations.
Were you surprised his suspension was overturned?
I don’t really know the situation. I’m happy that it’s over with for him. I’m happy that he can go back to playing baseball.
What’s your reaction to the fans that say that you’re the real MVP?
I agree with them. Just as I’m sure [Albert] Pujols or Prince Fielder or anyone who was close to winning thinks they should have won the MVP. For me, I felt I should have won it. I don’t vote. I have no say in the vote. A lot of people had great seasons. Ryan Braun had an excellent season. Prince had an excellent season along with Pujols and Jose Reyes. There are a lot of guys that probably thought they should have won MVP but hands down Ryan Braun won and we have to turn the page, get ready for this year and try to win it this year.
You thinking that you deserve MVP, those thoughts are just based on stats and aren’t related to his positive test at all?
No not at all, it’s just stats-wise. [His test] has nothing to do with [being the] MVP in my book. He won it, the voters voted and Ryan Braun is your MVP.
How effective do you think the current testing system is? Are there any changes that you would like to see made?
I honestly don’t know how the system really works. All I do is take the test and go about my business. I don’t really know the protocols or whatever.
Getting back to your off the field life. You come from a small city of under 55,000 and when you entered the league you came to one of the biggest sports and media hubs in the country. What are some of the pros and cons to L.A. and your home town of Midwest City, Okla.?
The first thing I can think of is in Oklahoma there is no traffic. L.A. has the worst traffic in the world. In Oklahoma, if something is 10 minutes away, then it’s 10 minutes away. Ten minutes in L.A. can take up to an hour. L.A. is a big city man. It was something I wasn’t quite used to and when I got here, it was a shock to me. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what was going on. As the years go by it gets easier and easier. It’s easier to embrace it, now I have fun with it. I love L.A. like I love Oklahoma.
Speaking of L.A. and shockers—the Angels have made a name for themselves this offseason. What are your thoughts on their moves? And do you think they will ever be able to threaten the Dodgers as being the most recognized team in L.A.?
I’ve been asked this question a couple of times during spring training. For me, when you think about L.A, you think about the Lakers and the Dodgers. I think there’s only one baseball team in L.A. and that’s the Dodgers. As far as the Angels and the actual additions, on paper they’re one of the best teams in all of baseball this year. The signing of Pujols and C.J. Wilson, then you have guys like Torii Hunter and Jared Weaver, I mean the list goes on and on—they have a bunch of great players on their team and they should make a lot of noise this year, if they stay healthy. That’s the main thing in baseball is seeing if you can stay healthy.
Do you feel any added pressure after signing the largest contract in National League history?
I’m working just as hard as I’ve worked every season. I’m going to relax, have fun and help my team in any way possible to try to win games. I’m not going to put any pressure on myself, if you do that, bad things will happen. I just gotta relax, have fun and let the game come to me.
What’s the craziest thing that a fan or groupie has ever done?
Umm...I have no—I mean, I don’t have really crazy fans or groupies. I’ve never really had anything crazy happen to me. So hopefully nothing does happen, I like it the way it is.
So, no stalkers or anything?
I don’t go out with the plan, 'Let me find a celebrity to go date.' That’s just not something you do.
Stalkers? [Laughs.] Nah, I don’t think I’ve had any stalkers, I hope not.
What’s your all-time favorite at bat music?
Probably Rick Ross “The Boss.”
Why is that?
That got me a lot of hits and the fans really loved when I came out to that.
Sneakers are also a big part of our magazine—do you have a favorite pair of kicks?
My Jordan IIIs. I love all different kinds of shoes. I’m a shoe fiend.
Have you had any frustrations while dealing with the L.A. media?
Out here the media, they want to know you as a baseball player but a lot of them want to know about your personal life. I don’t understand that. Your personal life is your personal life. But that’s something that goes with the territory, something that you gotta get used to. We live in Hollywood, so they want to know. They want to know who you’re dating, who you’re talking to, what you’re doing, where you’re going, that’s just Hollywood.
Considering the media coverage of your relationship with Rihanna in 2010, would you ever date a celebrity again?
[Laughs.] You never know what God has in his plans for you. I don’t go out with the plan, “Let me find a celebrity to go date.” That’s just not something you do. I’m just looking for a good person, someone who can be my friend and someone I can have fun with. She doesn’t have to be a celebrity; she can be a regular chick. She’s got to be smart, though. I like smart women.
Would you be open the same way as you were in that relationship then? Or would you be more guarded?
You mean as far as like publicly?
If I’m with someone, I’m not going to be scared, I’m not going to switch it up and hide from everybody. That’s just not how I live my life. I’m not into hiding and doing all sorts of crazy things like that. I’m just going to live my life the way I want to. If it’s someone I like or someone I’m in love with, I’m going to let it be known.
When’s the last time you spoke to Rihanna?
I can’t even remember the last time I talked to her.
So it’s been awhile then?
It’s been awhile, yeah.
Moving on to the 2012 season. Major League Baseball will be expanding the playoff system this year—what are your thoughts on that?
I think that’s good. For us, we concentrate on winning the division. But if we’re not fortunate enough to win the division there’s still a chance we could make the playoffs by playing in that wild card game.
What is your ultimate goal for 2012?
My ultimate goal for this upcoming season would definitely be to make it to the playoffs and to win. The ultimate goal I think for everyone in baseball when they coming to spring training is to make it to the World Series, so that’s not going to change for me, that’s my ultimate goal; winning and being crowned that World Series champ when it’s all said and done.