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Dodgers Memories: Matt Kemp and the Summer of 2012

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Few things, if any, can bring back buried memories like music. This past Friday, I took my daily jog like normal, accompanied by my iPhone full of favorite tunes. Scrolling through my Apple Music library, I stumbled across Foster the People, a band I hadn’t listened to in quite some time.

Selecting their debut album Torches, I cued up the ballad “I Would Do Anything For You.” As Mark Foster’s frail timbre and the song’s breezy instrumentation filled my ear canals, a wave of memories from the summer of 2012 flooded my mind. Just like that, I could smell the ocean air of Santa Cruz  In another instant, I felt like I was walking around the town of Davis, soaking in its rustic charms as I prepared for my first year at UC Davis in September.

Barely an hour later, I pulled up to a Carl’s Jr. in Rancho Cordova to get lunch. As soon as I parked, a text arrived from my father: the Dodgers were finalizing a massive trade with the Cincinnati Reds. Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer were off to the Queen City in exchange for two prospects and the immediately-released Homer Bailey.

As Dodgers Twitter posted justifiably emotional reactions, my personal reaction was largely detached. This was something the rumor mill had readied us for, after all. Just like in 2014, the team had a surplus of outfielders, so trading at least one was inevitable. I was all the more willing to accept it due to my enthusiasm for signing Bryce Harper, and since two longtime fan favorite outfielders were dealt, it made that move much more likely.

Then it hit me. On a day when nostalgia for the summer of 2012 was already prevalent in my mind, I suddenly remembered that none other than Matt Kemp himself was a huge part of it. It was a summer just on the precipice of huge changes in my life, and right in the middle of it, Beast Mode in his prime made for one of its sweetest moments.

It was Wednesday, July 18. A perfect beach house vacation in Santa Cruz just in our rearview mirror, my family and I trekked down south for a week of visiting relatives. Baseball wasn’t even at the forefront of my mind. That distinction belonged to Batman, as that was the week The Dark Knight Rises was premiering. My primary mission in Southern California was to obtain the material necessary for my Scarecrow costume to wear at the midnight premiere back in Sacramento.

Granted, even if the Caped Crusader wasn’t occupying my mind so thoroughly, the Dodgers still wouldn’t have my obsessive attention. My fanhood was in a relative stasis from the McCourt nadir of the past two seasons. Still, with new ownership pouring in tons of money to the team and cleaning up the mess, I wasn’t going to object to a summer day spent watching the Dodgers take on the Philadelphia Phillies.  

After lunch at a nearby Togo’s, my father, sisters and I quickly headed to the stadium around noon to fill our field level seats on the right field side. Even more sightly than the view of the field was the starting pitching match-up. Cliff Lee, then one of the game’s premiere aces, toed the rubber for Philadelphia opposite Clayton Kershaw, who was just one year removed from his Cy Young Award breakout season. On the downside, the beauty of the field and pitching was somewhat marred by the presence of loutish Phillies fans around us.

Unsurprisingly, the entire game was equal parts domination by the two aces. The Dodgers drew first blood in the second inning on a solo homer by Juan Rivera, but Philadelphia got the run back on a Carlos Ruiz RBI single in the fourth. Still, Lee vs. Kershaw could only ever be a pitcher’s duel, and those proved the only runs in nine innings.

Thus, it was on to the tenth. After eight incredible innings from Kershaw and a spotless ninth courtesy of Kenley Jansen, it was Javy Guerra’s turn to patrol the mound for L.A. Things quickly went south, walking the bases for Hunter Pence. In true Pence fashion, he laced a ground ball single that scored future Dodgers Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. The cadre of Phillies fans around us cheered with glee. Worse, the even more obnoxious Jonathan Papelbon took the mound to secure the save.

It wasn’t to be. Luis Cruz greeted Papelbon with a leadoff double, scoring soon thereafter on a single by former Phillie star Bobby Abreu. It was now 3-2 Philadelphia, and the tide continued to turn with a stolen base by Abreu and a single by Tony Gwynn Jr. to move him to third. However, a strikeout of Mark Ellis brought the Dodgers to their last out. It was up to Matt Kemp to extend things, and he did just that with a gritty infield single that scored Abreu and tied the game. “In your face!” my father triumphantly yelled at one of the more vocal Phillie fan hecklers nearby.

The action rolled on to the bottom of the 12th. With Jake Diekman on the mound and Mark Ellis on first, Kemp stepped to the plate again and did the only thing he could do. He seamlessly rocketed a home run to deep right centerfield, temporarily holding his bat in the air before shoving it and running around the bases. My family and I elated at such a perfect end to a game that started as a pitcher’s duel, and then morphed into a tightrope extra-innings slugfest.

For Kemp’s decisive moments in the game, fast forward to 3:17 in the video below:

 

In retrospect, the game marked a crossroads for the Dodgers, the Phillies, the starting pitchers, and my life. The first year of the Guggenheim ownership era, it would prove to be the last year without postseason play in Chavez Ravine to date. The Phillies, an odds-on World Series favorite prior to the season, waved the white flag on contention days later by trading Hunter Pence to the eventual champion San Francisco Giants. Lee would soon thereafter decline, while Kershaw quickly took his place as the eminent lefty ace in baseball the next year. Two months later, I began my history studies at UC Davis in late September, concluding a long path to the peak of my higher education.

Even so, Kemp’s walk-off that summer day wasn’t in and of itself a life-changing event. It wasn’t even a consequential event for the team, as they ultimately missed the playoffs, it was one year later that both of those milestones were attained, ironically more because of Yasiel Puig. It was the Wild Horse’s call-up that sparked the 42-8 run in the summer of 2013, reigniting my blue-blooded passion for the Dodgers and providing the backdrop of my true Greatest Summer Ever.

All the same, a moment doesn’t have to be transformative in order to be special. Especially if it’s to acquire Harper, Kemp’s second trade is ultimately one that makes perfect sense, regardless of how attached myself and others may feel to him. But it doesn’t erase the bevy of good memories he gave to the Dodger fanbase. Even at a time when my fanhood was still in recovery, Kemp gave me and my family an idyllic baseball memory we’ll cherish the rest of our lives.

Thanks for everything, Matthew Ryan Kemp. You played like an MVP in two seasons, made a stunning comeback this past year, and cleared the Green Monster in the World Series. But tying and winning against the Phillies on a midsummer afternoon will always be my favorite Bison heroic. The game itself was technically meaningless, yet its moments, as well as the time and place they unfolded, are forever meaningful.

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Written by Marshall Garvey

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  1. Without Kemp, the Dodgers would not have made the post-season. In my book, he is the Dodgers MVP for 2018.

    • Right you are. I’d say without him and Buehler we don’t even make the playoffs, let alone the WS.

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