Matt Kemp: 'I just decided I needed to give back'

Harry How

Two days after giving his cap, jersey, and shoes to a terminally ill fan in San Francisco, Matt Kemp talked about the power of giving back and interacting with fans.

By now you've probably seen the video a few times, of Matt Kemp giving his cap, jersey, and shoes to a fan on Sunday in San Francisco. Kemp didn't even know there was video, and when he woke up Tuesday morning with a ton of messages on his phone he wondered what was going on.

The video of Kemp giving his gear to a sick kid had gone viral. Third base coach Tim Wallach told Kemp there was a Dodger fan sitting on the third base side, and that he had cancer. After the game, a 4-3 loss that concluded a Dodgers sweep, Kemp went over to the fan and signed an autograph. The rest just sort of happened.

"I just saw a kid there who was a big fan. I just decided I needed to give back. God willing a miracle happens and he'll live for a while, but his father told (Tim Wallach) that he didn't have much time left on this earth," Kemp said. "I didn't plan on taking my jersey off. It was just something I felt probably would have cheered him up a little bit and helped him out in his situation."

The spontaneous act was an uplifting moment in an otherwise down season so far for both Kemp and the Dodgers. But interacting with fans is something Kemp has always made a point of doing. It dates back to an interaction Kemp had as a child.

Matt Kemp makes a fan's day

"One of my favorite basketball players kind of played me when I was 12 years old. I'm not going to say who it is. I asked him for his autograph and he said he was busy. As a kid you always remember those things and they kind of stick with you," Kemp said. "As much as I can try to contribute to making someone's day, I'll continue to do that. It's hard to give everybody an autograph or shake everybody's hand. I could say hi or do something little to acknowledge the fans who did so much for me.

"I don't think some athletes understand how big it is to be an athlete and what they can do with a simple gesture like shaking a kid's hand or saying hi to a fan. It will make a fan's day, or fan's life. It will probably be one of those fans' dream come true if their favorite athlete says hi to them or gives them something or signs a ball for them."

Manager Don Mattingly, captain of a sinking ship, had a big smile on his face talking about Kemp on Tuesday.

"There are a lot of stories out there. I always felt that way," Mattingly said. "I used to tell the players association years ago during all the strikes and fights, did they ever think about showing all the good stuff that guys do?"

Kemp knew the kid in San Francisco had cancer, but wasn't aware he didn't talk. That hit Kemp emotionally.

"I just lost a cousin of mine a couple of days ago. I get really emotional, especially with kids. They can't control anything that's going on. We can't control our health and what happens. We can eat right and workout, but other than that we can't control some of these diseases, cancer and all these things," Kemp said. "You see these kids that get their childhood taken away from them, they are unaware of anything and are just living life. It's tough. If there is a way I can make that kid happy, or any kid in that situation, I'm going to continue to do what I can.

Kemp recalled a friendship he struck with a girl named Katie, who had cancer but has since beaten it and is now cancer free. He said he felt inspired by Katie.

"She had cancer. She came to the stadium with no hair, but her spirit. I sit here and complain about the stupidest things sometimes, but this girl that has cancer and she can't control it, but she's smiling and just happy to be at Dodger Stadium," Kemp said. "That definitely makes you a stronger person, and brings you back, makes you humble and grateful for every thing that you have."

Kemp has just one home run in 32 games, and the Dodgers are off to a horrific 13-19 start. But the encounter on Sunday helped put things in perspective.

"This is baseball. We struggle, things happen. But when you see things like that, life can be so much worse. There is more to life than baseball," Kemp said. "There are way more important things than baseball. Baseball is definitely important to me, but there are bigger things going on than baseball."

In the positive karma department, Kemp was 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored on Tuesday, and has a modest seven-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .333/.364/.400. But his interaction with the fan at AT&T Park earned Kemp something even more rare.

"It was the first time Giants fans have ever been nice to me," Kemp said, laughing. "That was pretty cool right there."

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