Padres’ Matt Kemp is primed for season opener against Dodgers

Matt Kemp

Padres outfielder Matt Kemp smiles to fans calling his name while waiting for his turn in the batting cage prior to a spring training baseball game on March 10.

(Lenny Ignelzi / AP)

Matt Kemp still smiles when he thinks about how his first official game for the San Diego Padres will be at Dodger Stadium.

“Crazy, huh?” he said.

From the time he was traded by the Dodgers nearly three months ago, Kemp has looked ahead to the April 6 season opener against his former team.

“I’ve pictured it a million times,” he said.


He’s imagined everything from how the fans might treat him to what it will be like to face Clayton Kershaw. He’s also thought about how much he wants to beat the team that traded him.

“Of course,” he said. “That’s anybody who goes and plays against their former team. I’m very competitive. I don’t want to lose against anybody, especially the Dodgers.”

But as the two-time All-Star sat in front of his locker in the Padres spring-training complex this week, he insisted he has only positive feelings toward his former team.

“I had a lot of good years with the Dodgers,” he said. “I learned a lot, grew as a man wearing a Dodger jersey, met a lot of great people. I thank them for the opportunity that they’ve given me to wear a jersey and live out a dream of being a major league baseball player.”


Kemp was convinced he would remain with the Dodgers until he retired, which is why he was shocked by news of his trade. Kemp and backup catcher Tim Federowicz were sent to the Padres in exchange for catcher Yasmani Grandal and two pitchers.

Kemp said he learned of the deal in an early-morning phone call.

“I heard about it at like 4 or 5 in the morning,” he said. “It was my uncle. They just saw a bunch of reports that said I got traded to San Diego on social media.”

A few hours later, Kemp received confirmation of the trade from Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ new president of baseball operations.

Initially, there were hurt feelings.

“I don’t think that anybody that gets traded from the team they’ve been on so long wouldn’t kind of get hurt,” he said.

Reality further set in when he attended a Clippers game at Staples Center over the winter. When he was shown on the arena’s electronic scoreboard, fans booed.

“I think fans think I was a free agent and signed somewhere else,” he said. “I got traded, man.”


Kemp shook his head and laughed.

“Maybe they were booing more towards ‘Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres,’” he said. “I don’t know.”

Kemp might not know why he was booed, but recognizes the $107 million remaining on his contract made him a trade candidate, especially with the Dodgers overloaded with outfielders.

Kemp also said he doesn’t begrudge the Dodgers for replacing him with Yasiel Puig as the center of their marketing campaigns.

The runner-up in voting for the National League’s most valuable player award in 2011, Kemp was considered one of the top players in baseball until he injured his shoulder the next season. As Kemp struggled to regain his form in the wake of a major operation, Puig emerged as an overnight sensation.

“He’s a great baseball player,” Kemp said of Puig.

But Kemp said he is bothered by insinuations that he was a disruptive presence in the clubhouse last season or that his departure is responsible for Puig’s improved focus this spring.

“I kept hearing all kinds of things about me being a bad teammate, hard for this and hard for that, but none of my teammates have ever come up to me and said that about me,” he said. “I’ve had pretty much good relationships with all of my teammates. So, honestly, I know that’s not coming from anybody I’ve ever played with. I always backed my team up. I’m very passionate. There might be some times when I didn’t get along with somebody, but we always got past our differences and had that common goal of trying to win baseball games.”


Kemp defended his decision to speak out in the middle of last season, when he was playing part-time and out of position, in left field.

“I want to play every day, if it’s with the Dodgers, if it’s with somebody else,” Kemp said at the time.

Looking back, Kemp said, “I kept hearing maybe he’s going to platoon. For me, it wasn’t something I was able to wrap my mind around. I felt like if I wouldn’t have said anything, just let it all play out the way it played out, they would have said I didn’t care about playing on the field. But when I said I had to be in there playing every day, they said I was a bad teammate. I don’t feel like that makes me a bad teammate. I know my abilities and I know when I’m healthy and I’m on the field, I could have helped my team win.”

Kemp moved back to right field in mid-July, became an everyday player again and went on to hit 14 of his 25 home runs in the final two months of the season.

So when Kemp became available, the Padres pounced on him, making him the foundation of a major roster makeover. The Padres later acquired two other standout outfielders in Justin Upton and Wil Myers and signed a front-line starter in James Shields.

Today, the Padres view Kemp as their leader.

“He gives you energy in the clubhouse and on the field,” outfielder Will Venable said.

Another outfielder, Cameron Maybin, described Kemp as a potential cornerstone for the franchise.

“The last few years, we needed a guy like him,” outfielder Cameron Maybin said. “It starts with a guy like that, with that kind of confidence, that kind of talent, that kind of track record.”

Kemp likes his newfound responsibility.

“I think people are going to associate me with the Dodgers forever, but this is a new chapter in my life,” he said. “I’m embracing the role and I’m loving it over here, man.”

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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