LOS ANGELES » Matt Kemp became an Internet sensation after an impromptu gesture he made toward a cancer-stricken Dodgers fan attending a game at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.
The Dodgers’ Gold Glove center fielder was informed of the disabled fan’s plight by third base coach Tim Wallach during a 4-3 loss to the Giants on Sunday. After the game, Kemp went to the other side of the field with Wallach and met the fan and his father, who were sitting in the front row adjacent to the third base dugout.
"Wally told me that there was a big Dodger fan at the game and that he didn’t have a long time to live — not longer than a month and a half," Kemp said during a hastily-arranged press conference in the Dodgers’ dugout before Tuesday night’s game against Arizona.
"So after the game, I just decided to go meet him. He couldn’t talk because I guess his speech was gone. When I said ‘Hi’ to him, he just looked at me in shock. It almost got me."
The fan, whose name is Josh, appeared to be a teenager and was dressed in a hooded Dodgers sweatshirt. Kemp shook hands with him, autographed a ball and handed him his cap.
"I didn’t know that anybody was filming it. I wasn’t aware," Kemp said. "I woke up this morning and my phone’s ringing, and I’m saying: ‘What did I do now? What happened now? I hope nothing bad happened.’"
The video, which can be seen on YouTube, also shows Kemp pulling his jersey over his head and handing it to Josh — along with his shoes — while his friend Tommy was recording it on his cellphone.
"I didn’t plan on taking my jersey off. It was just something I felt that probably would have cheered him up a little bit and helped his situation," Kemp said. "It was the first time I ever took my shoes off on a field. That was the first time that Giants fans were ever nice to me.
"I mean, we’d just gotten swept by the Giants, but that was something I felt I needed to do, and I’m glad I got to do that," Kemp added. "Hopefully, that made the kid’s day. I don’t even know his name. God willing, a miracle happens and he lives for a while. But his father told Wally that he didn’t have much time left on this Earth."
An incident that occurred when Kemp was 12 years old helped contribute to his positive attitude toward fans — particularly those who are experiencing hardships.
"One of my favorite basketball players — I’m not going to say who it is — kind of played me," Kemp recalled. "I asked him for his autograph and he said he was busy. As a kid, you always remember those things and it kind of sticks with you. So as much as I can sign, I try. I know fans get mad when I tell them I have to do something at that moment. But I try to do as much as I can."
Kemp’s recollection was similar to something that happened to former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who was rebuffed by one of his favorite players when he was growing up. As fate would have it, he later faced that same player in a game and hit him with a pitch.
"I don’t think some athletes understand what they can do with a simple gesture and how big it is, just shaking a kid’s hand or saying ‘Hi’ to him. It can make a fan’s day — or a fan’s life," Kemp said.
"I get really emotional, especially with kids, because they can’t control anything that’s going on. You can’t control these diseases like cancer and other things that are going on. Some of these kids get their childhoods taken away from them, and they’re unaware of anything other than just living life. So if there’s a way that I can make any kid in that situation happy, then I’m going to continue to do what I can."
That attitude was reinforced recently when Kemp learned his cousin had died.
"Life is so much bigger than baseball," the two-time All-Star said. "I mean, you can sit here and think about going 0 for 4 with four Ks and you get mad, and you can complain about the stupidest things sometimes. But things like this humble you and keep you grounded and let you know that somebody’s life is way worse than whatever it is you’ve got going on.
"That makes you a stronger person and makes you grateful for everything that you have."