Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Kemp feels love in 'overwhelming' return to LA

If there was even the slightest twinge of trepidation or apprehension about returning to Dodger Stadium, the ballpark where Matt Kemp really became Matt Kemp, the Padres outfielder surely didn't show it Monday -- not before the game and certainly not during it.
Kemp, as he has been since the start of Spring Training, was vociferous, engaging and wore a smile from ear-to-ear as he addressed the media while seated in the visiting dugout before the opener against his former team.
"Weird," Kemp said. "This is my first time on this [visiting] side, so it's a little different, but I've got good feelings about being here today.
"It's just like any other Opening Day. I'm opening in Dodger Stadium, so it's nothing different. Just got a new jersey and with a new team."
Kemp looked comfortable at the plate, first delivering an RBI single off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the first inning to give the Padres their first hit and run of the season.
He later added a two-run double off Kershaw in the fifth inning for a 3-2 lead that held up until the seventh inning, as the Dodgers scored four runs over the last two innings for a 6-3 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 53,518.
"He's the best pitcher in baseball, hands down," Kemp said of Kershaw. "He kept them in the game today. He made a couple mistakes and I put some good swings on it, but he's one of the best pitchers in the game and you have to always respect that."
Said Kershaw: "He's a good hitter. I mean, he got the best of me today. He got the better of me today, so I got a lot of years left to face him, hopefully. I have to start figuring it out and getting him out."
A crowd that, depending on the point in the game, showed Kemp equal parts love and also utter disdain for wearing a different uniform on this day.
"It was exciting, overwhelming," Kemp said afterward. "It was great to come back here to get the love that I got. It was a little emotional. But I felt good."
This day has been on the calendar for a while now, Kemp's return to the only home ballpark he has ever known. He was made aware of it all the way back in mid-December at his introductory news conference at Petco Park, not long after general manager A.J. Preller traded for him.
Kemp, who was drafted by the Dodgers and played for them from 2006-2014, was greeted very warmly during player introductions and before his first at-bat, when he received a standing ovation.
"It was a good feeling to see him get the reception he got his first at-bat," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "He's been a huge part of the franchise. I'm proud of Dodgers fans for giving him that. Matt's been great with the fans and the community. He deserved to get that moment." 
Before the game, Kemp said he wasn't too sure what kind of reception he would get from the sold-out crowd.
"I thought I left my heart and soul on the field for the Dodgers. I thought I did a lot for them. I think I did some things for them and I had a lot of good memories here," Kemp said before the game.
He was cheered, with some boos mixed in, during player introductions. But Kemp strolled to the plate in the first inning, he received a warmer welcome, complete with a standing ovation from most of the crowd.
"I got some boos in right field, too," Kemp said, smiling. "But I like the boos."
San Diego manager Bud Black liked what he saw from his new right fielder.
"He's a good player. The emotion probably worked for him today. You look at Matt and where he's at in his career and he's a player who rises to the occasion. His performance today doesn't surprise me."

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