Matt Kemp Got His All-Star Swagger Back

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Matt Kemp wasnt supposed to be here. 

Not just at the 2018 All-Star Game in the Nations Capital on Tuesday night, but still playing baseball at a high level. Most thought his shine days were behind him. Long gone, if you will. 

In fact, when Kemp was traded for four players from the Atlanta Braves back to the Los Angeles Dodgers this past winter, many believed he had no shot to make the Dodgers roster. They had plenty of outfielders already. They were runners-up in the World Series. It seemed unlikely that the injury-prone Kemp, at 33, was a fit.

Most honestly believed he was going to be a salary dump casuality – not even put a LA uniform again. Wrong. Double wrong. 

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I sat down and talked to them, Kemp said about the Dodgers front office after the deal. They talked to me about what could happen, what might happen. I told them that LA is where I wanted to be. Who wouldnt want to be traded to a team that made it to the World Series and not want to be apart of that. 

Kemp came back with two years on his contract, making $21.75 million in both seasons. With the Braves, he hit .276 with 19 homers and 64 RBI last season. Previously, Kemp played in LA from 2006 to 2014 and hit 182 homers, the fourth-most in team history.

Still, there was no guarantee his second act on the big stage would be successful. But it was from Day 1. 

Kemp belongs here in DC. Without question, he is a star again. 

Thats why he was voted a starter by fans in the National League lineup. Hes batting .310 with 60 RBI. Kemp has 15 homers, just four shy of his total from last season when he played 115 games for the Atlanta Braves. His hot bat made it easy for Dodgers fans to embrace him again quickly. 

The fans have been great, Kemp said. Even when I left, most of them expressed how much they missed me and things like that. When I came back, it all started in spring training, the fans showed me a lot of love in Arizona. And I knew I missed being in LA and being apart of the organization. 

Tonight, Kemp will be the first Dodger to start in the Midsummer Classic since Yasiel Puig in 2014. 

You dont go into the season thinking about making the All-Star Game, Kemp said. Our main focus is about making it to the playoffs. Whatever happens, happens. These are things that you enjoy, your family enjoys. Its good to be back. 

His peers took notice of his first-half of the season, too. 

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He received the most votes among NL outfielders from the players. Thats impressive for a player six years removed from his last All-Star appearance. Talk about turning back the clock. It was 2012 when Kemp was a star, a starter in the All-Star Game.

For sure, its about being healthy, Kemp said. I told them whatever I need to do, Im in a position where Ill do whatever I can to help the team win. Play right field, left field. I want to help the team win that last game of the season. 

Theres still a lot of baseball to be played. But Kemp, so far, has seized the moment. 

For Matt to come back to Los Angeles and be voted in by the fans, I dont think hell let on how much this means to him, but its well deserved, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told the media when Kemps selection to team was announced. 

Kemp got nearly three million votes. That had to feel like a dream. Injuries, more than anything, played a factor in his demise as a star. He also put on some added weight. Kemp, though, shedded it, losing 40 pounds. 

In the process, he got his swagger back. Where would the first-place Dodgers be without him? In big trouble. Thats where. 

For me to just to have the possibility to be back in LA, somewhere I came up in the big leagues in and to come back and be a part of that, make some things happen, it was a good opportunity, Kemp said. 

He is in a good place these days. Back in LA. Back to being a star. 

To be able to come back where you started, try to make something happen, Kemp said. Its a cool story. 

A cool All-Star story, too.

Rob Parker is a columnist for The Shadow League. He is also an analyst for Fox Sports 1 in Los Angeles. He co-hosts The Odd Couple on Fox Sports Radio and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California.