Finally, Matt Kemp returns. After being absent for nearly a third of the season, the Dodgers’ most important player is scheduled to rejoin their struggling offense this week with their playoff hopes clinging to his balky hamstring.
Wait. What? He’s stopping off somewhere first? He’s making a detour in Kansas City?
Hold on. He’s going to be swinging a bat there? Against live pitching? In a testosterone- dripping strongman contest on national television?
You mean the first time the Dodgers and their fans will see Matt Kemp swinging a bat in a competitive big league situation since May 30, he’ll be doing it somewhere else and only for himself?
Welcome to another day in baseball’s Bizzaro World. Yes, it’s true, after sitting out 51 of the last 53 games, the Dodgers savior will be returning to action not in a pennant race, but a sideshow, that flimsy All-Star preliminary known as the Home Run Derby.
You can start holding your breath any time now.
“I’ve heard people saying he shouldn’t do it, and I can understand why they are saying it, because he hasn’t played in a long time,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Friday.
I’m one of those people. I think he shouldn’t do it. I know all the medical evidence supports Kemp, but I still think he shouldn’t do it.
I understand it’s just glorified batting practice, which he has been taking for more than a month now. I get how folks can say he has played in nearly a week’s worth of minor league games, he’s just a couple of days from returning to the Dodgers dugout, and how much can this hurt?
But if your child was returning to school after being out two months, would you allow him to first make a stop at the circus? Monday night’s derby will be a circus, filled with a bunch of big guys swinging from the heels and swaggering around the field, and who knows what can go wrong.
As the National League captain, Kemp is not only part of that circus, he’s the ringleader. He had only two home runs in last year’s competition, so you know he’ll be pushing hard to put on a better show. He was robbed of the most-valuable-player award last year by a guy who tested positive for performance- enhancing drugs, so you know that with the nation watching, he’ll be swinging with a chip on his shoulder. There is also absolutely no upside to winning the event, not even the sort of public respect that sluggers crave. Who won last year? Thought so.