Dodgers’ Kemp makes cancer-stricken fan’s day

Matt Kemp became an Internet sensation after an impromptu
gesture he made toward a cancer-stricken Dodgers fan attending a
game at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

The Dodgers’ Gold Glove center fielder was informed of the
disabled fan’s plight by third base coach Tim Wallach during a 4-3
loss to the Giants on Sunday. After the game, Kemp went to the
other side of the field with Wallach and met the fan and his
father, who were sitting in the front row adjacent to the third
base dugout.

”Wally told me that there was a big Dodger fan at the game and
that he didn’t have a long time to live – not longer than a month
and a half,” Kemp said during a hastily-arranged press conference
in the Dodgers’ dugout before Tuesday night’s game against
Arizona.

”So after the game, I just decided to go meet him. He couldn’t
talk because I guess his speech was gone. When I said `Hi’ to him,
he just looked at me in shock. It almost got me.”

The fan, whose name is Josh, appeared to be a teenager and was
dressed in a hooded Dodgers sweatshirt. Kemp shook hands with him,
autographed a ball and handed him his cap.

”I didn’t know that anybody was filming it. I wasn’t aware,”
Kemp said. ”I woke up this morning and my phone’s ringing, and I’m
saying: `What did I do now? What happened now? I hope nothing bad
happened.”’

The video, which can be seen on YouTube, also shows Kemp pulling
his jersey over his head and handing it to Josh – along with his
shoes – while his friend Tommy was recording it on his
cellphone.

”I didn’t plan on taking my jersey off. It was just something I
felt that probably would have cheered him up a little bit and
helped his situation,” Kemp said. ”It was the first time I ever
took my shoes off on a field. That was the first time that Giants
fans were ever nice to me.

”I mean, we’d just gotten swept by the Giants, but that was
something I felt I needed to do, and I’m glad I got to do that,”
Kemp added. ”Hopefully, that made the kid’s day. I don’t even know
his name. God willing, a miracle happens and he lives for a while.
But his father told Wally that he didn’t have much time left on
this Earth.”

An incident that occurred when Kemp was 12 years old helped
contribute to his positive attitude toward fans – particularly
those who are experiencing hardships.

”One of my favorite basketball players – I’m not going to say
who it is – kind of played me,” Kemp recalled. ”I asked him for
his autograph and he said he was busy. As a kid, you always
remember those things and it kind of sticks with you. So as much as
I can sign, I try. I know fans get mad when I tell them I have to
do something at that moment. But I try to do as much as I
can.”

Kemp’s recollection was similar to something that happened to
former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who was rebuffed by one of
his favorite players when he was growing up. As fate would have it,
he later faced that same player in a game and hit him with a
pitch.

”I don’t think some athletes understand what they can do with a
simple gesture and how big it is, just shaking a kid’s hand or
saying `Hi’ to him. It can make a fan’s day – or a fan’s life,”
Kemp said.

”I get really emotional, especially with kids, because they
can’t control anything that’s going on. You can’t control these
diseases like cancer and other things that are going on. Some of
these kids get their childhoods taken away from them, and they’re
unaware of anything other than just living life. So if there’s a
way that I can make any kid in that situation happy, then I’m going
to continue to do what I can.”

That attitude was reinforced recently when Kemp learned his
cousin had died.

”Life is so much bigger than baseball,” the two-time All-Star
said. ”I mean, you can sit here and think about going 0 for 4 with
four Ks and you get mad, and you can complain about the stupidest
things sometimes. But things like this humble you and keep you
grounded and let you know that somebody’s life is way worse than
whatever it is you’ve got going on.

”That makes you a stronger person and makes you grateful for
everything that you have.”