Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 3/12/12
GLENDALE, Ariz. Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp isn't into rehashing bad memories. A year ago, he emerged as one of the premier players in baseball. This year, he's looking forward to adding to the legacy. He is having fun again. It wasn't always that way. Today, the talk about Matt Kemp is his MVP potential, his self-created expectation that he could be the first player ever to hit 50 home runs and steal 50 bases in a season, and what he means to the Dodgers in a leadership role. Talk about a 180-degree turn. Kemp used to have the label of a problem child. Motivation was questioned. Attitude was a concern. "Maybe now people know me better," he said. And maybe now the people are different. Kemp, 27, won't talk about what went on, but it is fairly common knowledge around the Dodgers that former coaches Larry Bowa and Bob Schaefer didn't care much for the outfielder and didn't hide their feelings. When Don Mattingly moved from hitting coach to manager, replacing Joe Torre a year ago, he revamped the coaching staff. Mattingly brought in Davey Lopes, whose only exposure to Kemp had been from an opposing dugout. Lopes liked the potential of what he saw. "He had all the physical tools," Lopes said. "You would watch and feel that one day, if he maximizes his ability, he will turn into a great player. When I came (as a coach), I wanted to develop a repertoire with him, to earn his confidence and trust." Lopes wasn't part of any past with Kemp and wasn't interested in it. "People get bad raps," he said. "People maybe misunderstand an individual. That's part of the skills you need as a coach, dealing with different personalities. Maybe some of us are not as good at that as we should be." Lopes had an advantage in getting into Kemp's inner world. Kemp's agent, former pitcher Dave Stewart, is a former teammate of Lopes, and the two of them had the same agent, Tony Attanasio, during their playing career. "We talked in the offseason, and we talked about what needed to be done, not what happened," Lopes said. "I told him I thought he was a little heavy, and he came in 10, 15 pounds lighter. I told him it was a new beginning. I'm not saying what was said in the past was wrong, just saying I wasn't here and I wasn't worried about it. "Players are like society. They have changed over time. As a coach, you can't think about how things used to be. You have to adapt to how things are now. The kids don't relate to how things were 25 years ago. They have no clue. . . . As a coach you have to adjust. Times change. People change. . . . Things change." Change has been pretty good for Kemp. He has been able to meld the bad of the past with the good of the present and benefit. "I expect to have a good year every year, and if I don't, I'm disappointed, like (2010)," he said. "But I look as that year as a learning experience. The game is very humbling, and I was humbled. "This game is based on failure so you have to be mentally strong. In basketball or football you get used to success. In baseball, well 3 out of 10 is success." Kemp had plenty of success last year, finishing as the runner-up to Ryan Braun in the National League MVP voting. He was a first-time All-Star, earned his second Gold Glove and flirted with a Triple Crown. Kemp led the NL in home runs (39) and RBI (126) but finishing third in average (.324). He also stole 40 bases. That provides a high level of expectations for this year, and Kemp added to that in an offseason conference call with the media. "I said, 'I guess I'm going to have to get 50-50,'" he said about what he could do to improve in 2012. "I have to watch what I say. (The media) ran with it. But I do feel I am capable of that. I expect the most out of myself." Lopes expects the most out of Kemp, too. He sees Kemp as more than a statistical production machine. "We are fortunate to have an athlete like him on this team, and it's the same with that young pitcher," said Lopes, nodding toward 2011 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. "They love to play. They are great competitors. They have all the intangibles to be leaders. "They aren't afraid of any situation. People expect a lot of them, but they have God-given ability, and they know there is a challenge to make the most out of that ability." And for Kemp, he now knows he has a believer in Lopes.
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