Interview: Matt Kemp talks about playing his 1,000th game
By Jon Weisman
This morning, we celebrated an anniversary. Tonight, we celebrate a milestone.
When he takes the field tonight, 4 1/2 months shy of his 30th birthday, Matt Kemp will be playing in his 1,000th Major League game.
Kemp was 21 when the Dodgers called him up on May 28, 2006, taking the roster spot of, oddly enough, relief pitcher Lance Carter. That night, the Dodgers started four rookies: Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Willy Aybar.
Now, Kemp and Ethier (who is playing in his 1,180th game) are the club’s elder statesmen, as well as players moving up on the Dodgers’ list of all-time leaders.
Among those who have played at least 999 games with the Dodgers, Kemp is sixth all-time in adjusted OPS and the highest of anyone since No. 1 Pedro Guerrero. He trails only Guerrero, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Zack Wheat and Dixie Walker.
Kemp has 162 career home runs, one behind Raul Mondesi for 10th on the all-time Dodger homer list. Kemp has almost exactly the same number of stolen bases (165) and will enter the top 10 with 15 more. Kemp is the only player in history with at least 160 home runs and 160 stolen bases as a Dodger.
He’s also kicking it into gear, more and more. In 18 games since April 23, Kemp has a .371 on-base percentage and .523 slugging percentage, each higher than his career marks of .350 and .493.
Tonight, I talked to Kemp about playing in his 1,000th game. You read the interview below, but you can also enjoy listening to it as well in his own voice.
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So does that number shock you?
Yeah. Heck yeah, it shocks me. I think time goes by so fast. I just remember my first couple games in the big leagues, and now it’s my 1,000th game, man. Time flies.
You’ve endured a lot over the past couple of years, so does it make it a little sweeter to reach that kind of milestone?
Oh, for sure. Like I said, it’s been a grind the last couple of years, with injuries and things like that. But I mean, to get to this point is a blessing, man. I think no one ever thought I’d be playing in the Major Leagues, let alone a thousand games in the Major Leagues. For some people that might not seem like so many games, for other people it might seem like a lot. For me it seems like a lot. I know guys that play way longer than me and way more games, so I’ve got a long way to go to catch up to some of these other guys.
You got up here pretty quick for the first time. How different are you from that guy?
You grow. You grow every year. As a person and as a baseball player, I think every year you experience something different — some different obstacles. But you learn from all your mistakes. You keep growing, and you keep grinding. With every game, you get better and better as a person and as a baseball player. So like I said, it’s a blessing to be able to be out here and play in the game I’ve been playing since I was 4 years old.
Do you have a personal highlight from the past several years?
There’s so many, man. But just being here in itself is a highlight. Every day that I wake up and know that I get to come to the baseball field and be able to play in a baseball game is a highlight to me. So every day is a highlight for me.
You’ve spent every game as a Dodger, and you could play another 1,000 games as a Dodger. Does the legacy of being with the Dodgers and the fact that you’re rising up the team charts and all that stuff mean anything?
Oh, yeah, for sure. I think everybody wants to stick with the team that gave ‘em a chance and drafted them, and there’s a good possibility that I might be here for a long, long, long time. So if I could end my career anywhere, of course I would love it to be with the Dodgers. But you never know. You never know what could happen with baseball. Baseball’s a crazy game. But you know, I love playing here, I love being here — and may the legacy continue, if that’s what you want to call it.
I don’t know if you caught any of the Old-Timers Game on Saturday, but did you talk to any of those guys at all?
No, but I see a lot of those guys, and we talk all the time. So I know what they experienced and what it means to be a Dodger, and wearing that jersey every day with the “Dodgers” across it is very special. Not a lot of people get to play for the Dodgers, and I’m able to play with them and get to experience a lot of different things that a lot of people don’t get to.
Obviously, you accomplished a lot over the first 1,000 games, but what are your goals going forward. What are you still trying to improve?
Every year, you try to get better and better at everything. I’m still learning now. I’ve played 1,000 games in the big leagues. I think every day, every year, you still learn more and more about yourself and about different ways to be successful in the big leagues. I think I can get better at a lot of things. I think I can get better at everything. There’s still more that I need to learn and more I can do. So I’m excited to see where this journey takes me.
What do you remember from game one?
Game one? My first game in the big leagues? I struck out three times, and I made an error. But I got my first hit. So it was a bittersweet day for me. And my mom got to see it. My family was there, my mom and dad were there. So they got to see me being in the big leagues. I was in Washington D.C., playing in that big old soccer field. It was a moment to remember. It was tough, but it got better as time went on.
You went on that tear really quickly …
Yeah, I did, then I kind of disappeared for a minute, but then I came back strong.