Tagged: Matt Kemp

Humbling year comes to a close

ARLINGTON – This is where the long season ends, today, much too soon for us. It’s been a trying year. I’ve been humbled, and we’ve been humbled as a team. Nobody saw this coming, and we’re not going to let it happen again. When we get together for Spring Training, I want us all to remember how bad this felt. That will make us that much hungrier.

Looking back, we got beat down, starting in Spring Training. There was a lot of turnover, a lot of change. Four core guys left: Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, John Lackey and Darren Oliver. That’s a good piece of the club. And Gary Matthews Jr., too. He was an important role player for us.

It never really came together for us, other than that one stretch we put together in June where we played like us. The rest of the year, that wasn’t us at all. It was somebody else. We weren’t letting our talents flow. We were pressing, trying to do too much, trying to win games by ourselves.

When I signed here, I expected us to be dominant every year. We have to get that feeling back. One thing you can’t expect is injuries, and we had some big ones: Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis, Jeff Mathis, Joel Pineiro, Jason Bulger. We lost key guys, and I think it kind of knocked us off balance because we didn’t have as much depth as in the past.

This is the first time in my career since 2000, when I was 24 years old, that I played on a team that didn’t have a winning record. With the Twins, we were always in contention. In 2005 I broke my ankle and we didn’t make the postseason, and we didn’t make it in 2007 even though we were fighting for it and got close. Then we made it my first two years here and were two wins away from the World Series last season.

This is a humbling season for me. Sometimes you have to be humbled. You get spoiled sometimes with winning. I have been slapped in the face and the team’s been slapped in the face. I’ve been winning my whole career, and I’m not used to this feeling.

Things don’t always work out the way you plan. I had sports hernia surgery on Nov. 27, and it took me time to get to where I could do my rehab. When I got to Spring Training, it was like I had to learn to run the bases with it again. I had a lot of catching up to do, and the truth is, I didn’t feel the same, like myself, until recently, in August and September.

It all went back to May of 2009 at Dodger Stadium when I crashed into the wall making a catch on Matt Kemp. Then I hit the wall hard in San Francisco a few weeks later, and my groin got really bad. I always try to play through injuries – that’s just who I am – but this was bad. I had to sit a long time, and when I came back I wasn’t right but I gave it my best shot.

Playing center field requires a lot of running, and it seems like I was doing even more than normal this season. My old explosion wasn’t there. I didn’t feel like myself going after balls. I could still make plays, but it wasn’t me. That was something that really hurt me. I always told myself I would retire if I couldn’t play center field, but life is about revising things. It’s like when I said I wasn’t going to get married until I was 25, and I got married when I was 21. Life happens, as they say.

Anyway, I always thought I loved center field more than the game itself. When the decision was made to move me to right field and play Peter Bourjos in center, I found out I loved the game more than center field. That was big. It was hard for me to give up center field, but I knew I had to do it. It improved our defense. Peter is showing what he can do out there. He’s not a finished product, and that’s what’s scary – seeing how good he is already and knowing that he can get so much better.

When Pete got here, I liked that he asked me questions. That let me know he really wanted it. He’s into the game and understands the game offensively and defensively. I wouldn’t put too much on him too soon – let him play and learn and grow. This is just the beginning for him, and I know what that’s like. When I started out in Minnesota, I had guys like Kirby Puckett and Shane Mack to show me things. Now I can do that with Peter, like I did with Denard Span while I was still with the Twins. Now he’s playing some good center field.

It’s funny, it wasn’t until the end of August, the beginning of September, that my legs started feeling a lot better. I felt like I had some burst again, and I was getting down the line better. I think that moving to right actually did help me save wear on my legs. In the long run, that can be a really good thing. Next Spring Training, I’m going to be primed.

We learned a lot this season through the humbling we took. Now we have to turn it back around and be the Angels. That’s all. Just be the Angels, who we are. That will be enough. I’m excited about coming back and getting back to the top, where we belong.

You can catch me on MLB Network with some commentary during the postseason, and I’ll try to be enthusiastic and upbeat. But you know me: I’d rather be on that field, helping drive the Angels toward our ultimate goal. Wait’ll next year.

Hernia surgery a success!

What a day! I had surgery to repair a hernia on my right side and was in the hospital for eight hours. My wife, Katrina, picked me up and drove me home, and it’s a good thing. I’ll sleep well tonight.

The surgery was a success. I did my homework when I found out what needed to be done, and I’m really happy to get this taken care of, so I can move on and play without this pain next year. Dr. John Priskett performed the surgery at Baylor University Hospital, and he assured me everything went right. That’s great news.

Whatever was wrong in there, it’s fixed now. It already feels great. I’ll have six to eight weeks of rehab, starting with some light bike work, cardio, and gradually picking up to where I’ll be able to work out in mid-January. That will have me ready for Spring Training.

I’m really excited by what Dr. Priskett told me. It was a low-risk, high-reward surgery. The long-term gain is significant. He said, “You’re going to feel way better, and you’ll play better.” That was music to my ears.
He said that once you have this surgery, it never bothers you anymore. No more hernias for me. The only way I’d hurt my other side is compensating for the right side, and that won’t happen, because the right side is strong again. So I’ll be good to go.

This was my first surgery since 1995 when I had my right knee operated on. My body has been good to me, allowing me to play a lot of baseball, all out, for the Twins in Minnesota and now with the Angels.

I look back on the season, and so many things happened. We lost Nick Adenhart, a teammate and friend, and we mourned and prayed and had to go on and play the season. We did that with passion and purpose, in Nick’s honor. It was a great team, one I’ll always remember.

For me, the team and Major League Baseball, it was a good year. I think about it all the time. I was on my way to my best season when I got hurt running into walls. The one at Dodger Stadium on May 22, when I caught my buddy Matt Kemp’s drive against the wall, I was hurting after that. Then I did it again in San Francisco on June 15, and that messed me up some more.

If I had played the whole season, I could have had 120-plus ribbies, 30-plus homers, scored 100 runs. It was great winning the Silver Slugger Award, but I know I could have done much more.

I knew on that Sunday in Arizona on June 28 that something was really wrong, when I sat at the locker after the game and couldn’t move. I was so disappointed that day, knowing I was hurt, but not knowing how bad it was.

I tried to play through it but had to go on the disabled list on July 10 with the adductor strain, and it cost me 32 games. When I came back, I still had some pain but I had to be there for my team, so I played the best I could. We took it to Game 6 in the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium after sweeping the Red Sox in Boston. That was an amazing experience.

It’s like I kept saying, adrenaline is a pain-killer. But it was a temporary solution. There are some things you can’t play through, and sometimes you have to go in and get something taken care of.

I want to thank all the fans who have expressed concern and shown me so much support over the years. I’m a lucky guy to have a great family and so many people care about me. I’m looking forward to taking it easy for a while, going on some dates with my wife and spending time with our sons.

Next thing we know, it will be February, and we’ll be playing baseball again in the sun in Arizona. I can’t wait to take another run at a championship.

Emulating the great Ken Griffey Jr.

We’re in Seattle, facing the Mariners, and it always takes me back to 1999, my second year in the bigs with the Twins when I finally got to play against a man I admired so much – the great Ken Griffey Jr.

My first at-bat that day at the old Kingdome, I struck out to end the inning. As I was running out on the field, he was running off. He kind of came toward me and said, “Hey, man, keep working hard and have fun with it. Enjoy the game.” That really stuck with me. He was giving me a message. I was impressed that he did that. It really meant a lot to me. And still does.

That’s what Ken Griffey Jr. brought to the game, that ability to have a good time while putting on a show with his incredible talent. He had his cap on backwards and was always laughing, enjoying himself. Kirby Puckett was like that, too, and that’s what I wanted to be like.

I took on that same kind of personality, showing my emotions and expressing how much I enjoy what I’m doing. I’ve carried it with me through my career. It’s a game we’re playing, and I think people want to see us enjoying ourselves. Ken Griffey Jr. showed how to do it. He was always a bright light out there.

I patterned my game and my personality after those two guys, Junior and Kirby. It was one of the smartest things I ever did.

Griffey always had the most beautiful swing in all of baseball. There was nothing like it. Everybody wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. When I was in the Minor Leagues and struggling, I tried taking his swing over to the right side. It didn’t work quite as well, of course. But it was fun, trying to use that Griffey swing.

When you think about what he’s done – 625 home runs, the highlight plays with the glove, and think about all the time he’s missed with injuries – he’s one of the greats of all time.

I’ve tried to follow in the footsteps of Ken Griffey and Kirby Puckett in center field, and now maybe there are young guys watching me and wanting to play the way I do. If that’s the case, it’s an honor to carry on that tradition.

When I was a young guy, I used to watch everything Griffey did, especially in center field. He was The Man. We had video of him, and I studied how he’d take straight angles to the ball – A to B, not A to C. I wanted to do everything the way he did, because he was the master out there.

I never took a homer away from him – he usually gave you no chance with those monster drives he’d hit. He’d usually pull the ball, too. I did rob him of a few hits, doubles and triples. He’d just stand there and look at me. You know I loved that. The respect I have for that guy is huge.

Any time I had a chance, I asked him questions, just like I always did with Kirby. That’s how you learn. Ask questions. I always tell the younger players not to be shy, to ask me anything they want. That’s what I’m here for, to help out. In this game, you can never have enough information.

There are a lot of really talented young center fielders now, and it’s great to see. Adam Jones in Baltimore, he calls me every week. We talk about the game, life outside the game, anything he wants. He’s playing the game the way I did at 24, and when he’s 34, he’ll be playing like I am now.

Curtis Granderson in Detroit, we’ve gotten close. He’s my guy. Grady Sizemore is cool, and a great talent. Matt Kemp with the Dodgers, I love that guy. I like being like a big brother to all these guys.

It kind of runs from Griffey and Kirby through me and now through all these young guys coming up. We’re all connected in that way. It’s always been an honor to be on the same field with Ken Griffey Jr.

It might be winding down for him now, but you still see that smile, that love of being in the uniform and being on the field.

The man is a legend, and I’m definitely a better player and person for wanting to be like him.

L.A. to Arkansas to Anaheim . . . all good

I went home to Arkansas on a private plane after the game yesterday at Dodger Stadium to be with family attend services for my grandmother. That’s why I wasn’t able to hang around and talk to reporters, which I enjoy doing as part of my job.

I know everyone was curious about how I felt after crashing into the wall to make that catch on Matt Kemp’s ball, and I was pretty sore. But a massage helped me out, and I actually feel pretty good today. So I called Mike Scioscia, our manager, and Ron Roenicke, our bench coach, and told them I’d better be in the lineup against the White Sox.

My grandmother — Zelma Louise Hunter — passed last Saturday. This is my dad’s mom, and he’s taking it pretty hard. She was 94 years old and lived a good, long life. She went to the hospital 10 days ago and they told her she had a week to live.

I got back to Pine Bluff last night, going solo. I hung out with my family. I haven’t seen some of them for 10, 20 years. I’m glad I was able to get back there and be there for her services. She was a wonderful person, and she’ll be missed.

OK, so here I am, back on the job. I’m going to take batting practice and get ready to play. I didn’t think I’d feel like this after it happened. I was trying to catch my breath after the catch. My body spasmed up. I was trying to ball up before I hit the wall, turn and hit it with my back, but my elbow hit me in the ribs and took my breath away.

The whole game after that I had short breath. But that’s what I do. I was asked, very respectfully, if I’m a little crazy to make plays like that, but I’ve got to catch that ball. It’s irritating to let a ball fall. I’ve been running into walls my whole career. If I was gun-shy, it would have happened my first year. Only in Boston will I let it go off the wall — you don’t want to run into that thing. Everywhere else it’s padded out there, and it’s like Ray Lewis hitting you. You know how much I love football.

I came out of the game yesterday a little early, in the seventh inning. My quad tightened up a little, but the massage I got after the game straightened that out. I’m fine.

I’m excited to be back. The great Vladimir Guerrero comes back tonight, and that’s another big weapon in our lineup. We’ve been playing pretty well lately, showing our toughness, I think. The guys have come together and played some good baseball. It’s a long season, and I love this team.

It’s great to be back, and my family’s all right. It’s all good. I’m ready to get back out there and get after it.      

Dodgers, Angels project proud heritage

For a couple of years now, people have been talking about the decline of the African-American player in Major League Baseball. The sport has made it a priority to get inner-city kids interested and involved in the game again, and the players have also done their part. I have the Torii Hunter Project, CC Sabathia has his, Jimmy Rollins has his thing going, Derrek Lee. Guys are doing what they can to get inner-city kids back into the game.

This is important to us, because it’s our heritage. Back in the days of the Negro Leagues, baseball was huge for African-Americans. They played in front of 20,000, 30,000 fans. Everybody was all dressed up, men in suits, women in dresses, everybody looking fine and having a great time.

The last 10 years we’ve seen a decline in African-Americans in the Majors, but there are signs it’s coming back around. Two years ago it was on its way to 7 percent African-American representation in the Major Leagues, but now it’s up to 10, 11 percent. That’s encouraging. It tells me these programs and projects are starting to work.

This series with the Dodgers is especially exciting for me. I’m always into the game — I don’t hide my love of playing baseball — but this Interleague series is definitely special. I look over at the other side of the field and see Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, Orlando Hudson, James Loney, Juan Pierre, Cory Wade. And Xavier Paul just went on the disabled list. That’s a lot of African-Americans on one team.

Over in our clubhouse, we’ve got Chone Figgins, Howard Kendrick, Darren Oliver, Gary Matthews Jr. and myself. It really feels good to see African-Americans playing the game and showing kids how they can have long, productive careers — and make a lot of money in this sport.

Like anything worthwhile, it’s never easy. It takes a lot of mental toughness. It’s a humbling game with a lot of failure involved. But it’s worth all the time and effort, believe me. I signed when I was 17, and I’m signed through 37 years old. That means I’ll have 20 years in the game, at least. How many guys do that in the NFL and NBA?

Last year it was the Angels, Rays and Brewers who had the highest percentage of African-Americans, but it looks to me like it’s the Dodgers and Angels now. Two L.A. teams, playing an exciting brand of baseball — old-school style. We go first to third, run the bases hard, play great defense. We compete..

I will have a big smile on my face tonight. I feel a lot of pride in what I’m seeing. I want inner-city kids to understand how great this game is, how you don’t have to have a 40-inch vertical leap or be able to run through a building to play baseball. You need desire, a strong work ethic, and you have to know how to handle failure and adversity.

The game is getting back to speed, moving away from all the focus being on power. You see how important the stolen base is again, with guys like Carl Crawford and Figgy. Heck, I’ve even got eight bags. Bobby Abreu is stealing bases.

This is the game our grandparents and their parents grew up loving. Knowing everything the Dodgers have represented for bringing Jackie Robinson and Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella into the game and breaking down that color barrier, I’m so happy to see the team they’re putting on the field now.

I’m always excited to play the game and never take for granted how fortunate I am. This is going to be a great weekend of baseball.