Kemp, who still felt in his heart that he was a basketball player, but hadn't been offered a Division I scholarship, accepted the Dodgers bonus money on a tentative basis, and opened his professional career in the Gulf Coast League.
Somewhere along the way, he forgot about dribbling and passing behind his back and started to concentrate on learning the strike zone and identifying sliders on the outside corner of the plate.
The overwhelming difference in the two major professionals sports, baseball and football, is that a talented college player can step right into the starting lineup when he signs a professional contract. Alas, that is just not true in baseball and it is doubly tough if the young man didn't play the sport much as he grew up.
His athleticism carried him through the minor leagues and he made his major league debut at age 21, electrifying the Dodgers by slugging seven home runs in his first 18 days in The Show. Visions of a Rookie's of the Year season danced in many heads.
However, pitchers learned to exploit his rawness and steadily expanded his strike zone. It wasn't long before a steady diet of breaking pitches low and away were eating him up. He eventually went to the bench, then back to Las Vegas where he reestablished his hitting credentials to earn a September callup.
He's the quintessential five-tool prospect. He's got remarkable strength, a quick bat, good speed and a thunderbolt for an arm.
He can certainly cover ground in center but at first the Dodgers seemed to like him better in right to take advantage of that arm. But he eventually pushed veteran Juan Pierre into left field and seems to improve every game.
His baserunning was, well, unusual and drew the ire of veteran Jeff Kent, leading to the outcry to trade him for a more experienced bat and glove and a more competent base runner.
That has all been quieted by the remarkably talented young man, still only 24, who is now hitting .321 with 12 home runs and 53 runs batted in. He also walked and stole his 20th base in the third inning.
Kemp recently tied a team record with his third grand slam home run of the season and is hitting .540 when batting in the #8 slot.
He ranks in the top 10 in the National League in hits and stolen bases and he is tied for the Major League-lead with 10 assists. His throwing arm has caused opposing base runners to think twice about advancing on a hit to center field. Some still try but not as many.
In the final game of the four-game series with Houston, Kemp singled and Ausmus double him across the plate in the third and fifth innings to cut a 3-0 Astros lead to 3-2. He singled again in the seventh and, after two errors, scored the tying run,
Then in the last of the eighth, with two out, the game tied and the count 3-2, Kemp blasted a shot into the left field seats to give them the lead for the first time.
Jonathan Broxton demonstrated that his ailing toe has recovered. In the top of the 10th, he threw 12 pitches, 10 of them strikes and seven of them in the 99-100 mph range. He only faces three batters, struck out two of them and the Dodgers a 4-3 win and a series split.
"He's been the most consistent hitter we've had all year from the first game to today," Ausmus was lavish with his praise. "His temperament is even-keel, he plays hard, he's a phenomenal outfielder in a premier position. He's 6-3, 230 and probably the fastest person on the team. He could have been a tight end in the NFL. If he stays the course, he could have a great career. He's been the biggest piece and the most consistent piece from day one."
This game would have been easy to lose. Second baseman Orlando Hudson injured his surgically repaired left wrist (the injury is not believed to be serious); Manny Ramirez was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and Hiroki Kuroda lasted only five innings and trailed 3-0 when he left the game. Kemp and Andre Ethier each had three of the Dodgers eight hits and Ausmus had two.
Ramirez went 2-for-14 with five strikeouts in his first home series since his suspension. The top five batters in the lineup, including pinch-hitters were 0-for-14 and as a team, the club was 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. James Loney hit into a pair of double plays, recording six outs in four trips to the plate.
Kuroda had baserunners on in every inning but escaped disaster in each one but the third. He allowed an opening double, then with two out an RBI single and a two-run home run put Hiroki and the team in a 3-0 hole.
Guillermo Mota, Ramon Troncoso (4-0), extended his streak to 16 innings without allowing an earned run, and Broxton finished out for him, collectively allowing no hits, one walk and fanning five.
Despite the series split, the Dodgers have the best record in baseball at 58-34, 2.5 games better than the Red Sox (55-36) and are a season-high 24 games above .500 for the third time.
Tonight, the Dodgers will send RHP Jason Schmidt to the mound in the first game of the Cincinnati series for his first Major League outing since June 16, 2007. After two shoulder surgeries and two years of rehab later, and countless hours of rehab, Schmidt returns to the mound hoping to become the fifth starter the club is looking for. He's made five consecutive starts on regular rest in the Minor Leagues.
The Reds counter with RHP Micah Owings (6-9, 4.94 ERA) who gave up seven earned runs and eight hits over 4.1 innings with four walks and one strikeout in his last start as the Reds lost 9-6 to the Phillies. He was given leads of 3-0 and 6-4 and was unable to hold it. i
Score by innings Houston 003 000 000-3 Los Angeles 001 010 11x-4 Los Angeles ab r h bi ave Furcal ss 4 0 0 0 .251 Hudson 2b 3 0 0 0 .292 Mota p 0 0 0 0 .000 Loretta ph 1 0 0 0 .241 Castro 2b 0 0 0 0 .347 Ramirez lf 2 0 0 0 .333 Blake 3b 4 0 0 0 .279 Ethier rf 4 0 2 0 3254 Loney 1b 4 0 0 0 .276 Kemp cf 3 4 3 1 .321 Ausmus c 3 0 2 2 .305 Kuroda 1 0 0 0 .000 DeWitt 1 0 0 0 .143 Troncoso p 0 0 0 0 .000 Broxton p 0 0 0 0 .000 --------------------------------------- Totals 31 4 8 4 Houston 35 3 7 3 Error- Furcal (12). Two-base hits- Ausmus 2 (4). HR- Kemp (12). RBI- Ausmus 2 (7), Furcal (22), Kemp (53). S- Ausmus. LOB- Los Angeles 7, Houston 9. SB- Kemp (20). Los Angeles in h r-er bb so era Kuroda 5.0 7 3-3 2 1 4.73 Mota 2.0 0 0-0 1 2 3.27 Troncoso 1.0 0 0-0 0 1 1.70 Broxton 1.0 0 0-0 0 2 2.95 PB- Ausmus 2. HBP- by Mota. T- 3:11. Att- 40,340.Dodger Blue Notes-- Kemp scored four runs on Sunday and equaled his career high. ...The Dodgers' win Sunday was their 18th in their last at-bat. ... Ethier went 3-for-4 on after going just 3-for-16 in his previous four games with an at-bat. ...Jonathan Broxton is 11-for-11 in save opportunities at Dodger Stadium, and has a 0.38 ERA in 21 games overall. ...Kuroda in winless in his last three starts, going 0-1 with an 8.47 ERA. ...Ausmus is 5-for-9 (.555) with two doubles, a homer, and a three RBI in his last three starts.