ATLANTA -- Matt Kemp is a former MVP-caliber player whose stardom with the Dodgers enabled him to enjoy the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood lifestyle. But those past thrills might have been trumped by those he experienced on Tuesday, when he donned a Braves uniform for the first time
ATLANTA -- Matt Kemp is a former MVP-caliber player whose stardom with the Dodgers enabled him to enjoy the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood lifestyle. But those past thrills might have been trumped by those he experienced on Tuesday, when he donned a Braves uniform for the first time and immediately realized those childhood dreams that materialized from those countless hours he used to spend watching Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones on TBS.
"It feels awesome," Kemp said. "It's a good day. I'm a little nervous and excited at the same time. But this is it. This is what dreams are made of right here."
Kemp has been overwhelmed by the excitement he has felt dating back to Saturday night, when he learned the Braves had acquired him from the Padres in exchange for Héctor Olivera. Still just 31 years old, the two-time All-Star will now have an opportunity to prove just how valuable he can still be while playing for that same Braves organization that he loved during his childhood days in Oklahoma.
"I've been dreaming about putting on this uniform and being a Major League Baseball player," Kemp said. "That dream has come true. I'm very excited about this opportunity to come here and help this organization and try to turn it around and make this happen."
When this trade was completed, Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said this was essentially the first of the many significant moves the team plans to make in attempt to once again be competitive in 2017. Kemp might no longer be the guy who hit 39 homers, stole 40 bases and finished second in the balloting for the National League MVP in 2011.
Hamstring, shoulder and ankle injuries, some of which came as a result of his aggressive style of play, hampered him over the two seasons that followed, and concerns about arthritis in both hips arose when he was traded from the Dodgers to the Padres before the 2015 season. But the veteran outfielder still hit 46 home runs and produced a 110 OPS+ over the 254 games he played for San Diego.
Freddie Freeman leads the Braves with 36 homers since the start of 2015 and Adonis García ranks second with 18. In other words, there was a definite need for power in Atlanta and the Braves were willing to take a chance on getting it from Kemp while essentially paying an additional $8.5 million more per season than they would have had they simply eaten the $28.5 million owed to Olivera, who was never expected to be added to Atlanta's roster following the completion of his domestic violence suspension, which expired on Tuesday.
"There have been times when the game wasn't fun for me, especially when you are injured and you're trying to come back," Kemp said. "It's not fun being on the DL or playing with an injury. I don't think people understand what baseball players go through. There might be a period where they're struggling, but there might be a reason why they're struggling."
Kemp looks forward to some of the opportunities he'll now get, like the chance to sit down for an interview with Glavine before Tuesday night's game. But really, the outfielder is simply looking forward to doing whatever he can to help Atlanta fans to once again feel that same energy he felt as a kid while relishing in the glory days of the Braves organization.
"There are a lot of fans out here," Kemp said. "This is a baseball city. I'm excited about it. I've been in [Los Angeles] and I've been in San Diego. In L.A., they had the Lakers. The Dodgers weren't as popular as the Lakers. But here in Atlanta, this is a city where everybody wants to root for the Braves. It's a baseball city and I'm excited to be here."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.