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Matt Kemp Is An Enigma

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Matt Kemp and Dodgers' General Manager Ned Colletti sign the eight-year contract. (LA Dodgers/Jon SooHoo, used with permission)
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I don't understand Matt Kemp.

We have seen him have a tough season in 2010. We have now seen him respond with a transcendent 2011 season. We have seen him in a paparazzi-filled relationship with Rihanna. We have seen him in a spread in Flaunt Magazine.

This Oklahoma native whose dream as a kid was to be an NBA player is now living the dream as a baseball player. That sentence is confusing enough to process. Did he switch dreams in high school? And what is this dream he is living now?

There he was at the Dodger Stadium Club his pearly whites shining a mile away in competition with his snazzy black bow tie. He has gotten the richest deal in Dodger history, and he had his family and public relations to help him celebrate on this cloudy, gray day.

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He did the normal athlete-speak that’s utterly devoid of meaning and content.

“2012 is going to be an unbelievable season.”

“I definitely want to be a leader. I want to take it to the next level.”

“This is very overwhelming. I’m just humbled for this opportunity.”

“The number one goal is to win. The dream is to make it to the World Series and be the World Series champs.”

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But there were two words that haunted the 30-minute press conference: eight years. The first time he uttered those words, I didn’t think much of it. It sounded like he was happy to be a Dodger for the best years of his career.

“Another eight years in LA, that’s great,” Kemp said. “I love this city. The fans embraced me well. Just to be a part of this city and what it stands for is an awesome feeling.”

He paused right there unsure of what to say. I don’t know whether it was him being slightly under the weather that brought it on, but things turned slightly sinister.

“Eight more years, that’s a long time,” Kemp mused.

How odd. Maybe he was trying to get laughs and failed. Maybe the enormity of the occasion just hit him.

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The press conference marched on, and Joe McDonnell of FoxSportsWest.com and KNX 1070-AM asked Kemp about his emergence as a leader. Kemp talked about God putting him on this earth to be a leader and his love of the word “leader.” Then he did again.

“Like I said I’m here for eight years,” Kemp said emphasizing “eight years” by channeling the voice of the grim reaper. He quickly added, “to be a leader,” in that same affectation.

There were nervous laughs in the room, but I sat there bewildered. Did the enormity of the eight-year term just hit him?

One thing I knew for sure is that Kemp wasn’t unprepared for the media. He loves these things even saying he hoped to be back on Tuesday after the announcement of the National League MVP award. He’s also very charismatic when he’s in a good mood as he was throughout the second half of the 2011 season. He’s well versed in athlete-speak, so he knows how to say a lot of words that have no meaning.

I didn’t get a chance to ask him myself since his personal PR representative had people queue to interview him one at a time rather than the normal media scrum that is common after the television cameras turn off. Having other obligations made before this press conference was announced last night, I had to leave before I got the chance to ask him why he made the eight years sound like a death sentence.

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I understand that Kemp did leave some money on the table and didn’t put in a no-trade clause, but he did want to stay with the Dodgers, right? An average annual salary of $20 million should be enough live off of, right? So why so sinister?

Here’s to hoping Kemp wins the MVP on Tuesday so I can ask him then.