Classy Kemp closing in on history

Classy Kemp closing in on history

WASHINGTON -- Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp celebrated a quarter century of life on Wednesday while Dodgers fans are celebrating a rising star who has a good shot of reaching a statistical plateau that has never been reached in the more than 100-year history of the franchise.

Kemp is aiming to become the first Dodgers player to hit .300 with 25 homers, 100 RBIs and 30 steals in one season. Through Wednesday, his 25th birthday, Kemp was hitting .304 with 25 homers, 97 RBIs and 34 steals in 149 games.

Already, he is only the sixth player in Dodgers history to have 20 homers and 30 steals in one season, and the first since Raul Mondesi in 1999.

There will be those who tell you that they knew this is what they'd eventually see from the gifted but raw young athlete drafted in the sixth round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of high school in Oklahoma, where he turned down an offer from the Sooners to play shooting guard and instead opted to focus on baseball.

Some of them, who saw the rare blend of true power and speed and projectable body, may be telling the truth. But Kemp had a lot of doubters -- people who thought he'd be good, not great. There were those who wondered if he had the makeup and maturity to put it all together. Certainly, there were few a year ago who thought Kemp would be where he is right now.

Even veteran manager Joe Torre is impressed at the turnaround Kemp has made.

"Where Matty was last year at this time vs. this year at this time is just remarkable how far he's come," said Torre. "We all know he's got tools and high expectations, but how he's improved his game over the last year has been very impressive."

Not that Kemp had a bad 2008 campaign. Now in his fourth Major League season, he batted .290 with 18 homers, 76 RBIs and 35 steals last season, and he brought a .299 average in 305 career games into the '09 campaign.

One of Kemp's biggest believers has been his agent. But before you cringe at the word that evokes images of the guy who is going to be his backer all the way to the bank without much more input into his career, think for a minute about who that agent is, and you may understand a little more about the outfielder.

Kemp's agent is former All-Star pitcher Dave Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner and 1989 World Series MVP who, during a 16-year Major League career, became equally well known for his on-the-mound glare and his off-field community service.

In fact, the A's have named their annual award for community service for the pitcher, who finished his career with Oakland as well as enjoying his glory days there.

Stewart moved into the business of being an agent a few years ago, but he keeps a low profile with a hand-selected group of players for whom he not only provides business advice, but also his baseball acumen.

Stewart and Kemp met through one of Kemp's best friends, former big leaguer Junior Spivey, who was one of Stewart's clients.

"We became friends before he became my agent, and we hit it off, and ever since then, he's been like another dad to me," Kemp said. "When I introduce him to anybody, I don't say this is my agent. It's like this is my best friend/my dad/my agent. We have a special bond. He's helped me in a lot of ways in my career."

While Stewart has obviously been a great advisor when it comes to the baseball side of things, his off-field good deeds have also rubbed off on Kemp. And thanks in large part to Stewart's influence, Kemp has become a celebrity spokesperson for TACA (Talk About Curing Autism), including sponsoring a successful charity poker tournament during Spring Training called Ante Up For Autism.

It's a cause which has special meaning for Kemp, since his younger brother, Carlton, is autistic.

"Just being a spokesperson for it is important to me ... working with kids and giving back to the community," Kemp said.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.