Kemp hadn’t planned to hand his cap, his jersey and his cleats to an ill Dodgers fan, but then he just had to.
He had just made the final out in a city where his name is booed, his jersey is reviled, and his team had been swept.
His power had disappeared, his swing was spotty, and his season was a wreck.
Matt Kemp would have been excused for quickly disappearing through the dugout at San Francisco’s AT&T Park on Sunday night and forgetting all about an earlier promise to third base coach Tim Wallach.
“But that was the neat deal about it,” Wallach said. “He was standing there waiting for me.”
Kemp was waiting to cross the diamond to sign an autograph for a terminally ill Dodgers fan, waiting to summon the passion necessary to pass along the hope that he now found so precious.
Kemp didn’t know the kid’s name. Kemp didn’t know anybody was watching. When he reached the figure in the hooded blue sweatshirt sitting motionless in the front row, he thought the encounter would be quick and forgettable.
Then Kemp saw something. Maybe it was the kid’s lost stare. Maybe it was his painfully frozen limbs.
“I said hi to him, he just looked at me in kind of shock, and it almost got me,” Kemp said. “It almost got me.”
Oh, but it did get him. The moment stripped him of his self-pity, and then everything else started coming off.
Kemp handed the kid the autographed ball. He handed him his cap. He tore off his dusty No. 27 jersey with the buttons still fastened and put it on the kid’s lap. Then he bent over and removed his shoes and handed them over to complete the grand slam.
Watching it all, speechless, was the kid, Joshua Jones, a 19-year-old from Tracy, Calif., who is suffering from inoperable tumors in his spine and has been given 90 days to live.
“I was in shock,” Jones said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘I can’t believe he’s doing this.’”
Filming it all through his smartphone, creating a video that has created an Internet buzz, was his buddy Tommy Schultz.
“The shirt, the cap, wow. … Then he took off the cleats and I was blown away,” Schultz said.
Remembering it forever will be Joshua’s brother, Ryan, 20, who says Kemp dressed their entire family in wide-eyed amazement.
“I don’t think words can explain how great this was,” Ryan said. “If this is the last memory of his life, it was an incredible one.”
As for Kemp, well, he sort of shrugged. When asked about the incident before Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium, he said he still didn’t know the kid’s name and still had not seen the video.
“I didn’t plan on taking the jersey off, but it’s something I felt would probably cheer him up a little bit … and that was my first time taking my shoes off in front of the fans,” Kemp said with an embarrassed grin. “But life is so much bigger than baseball.” …
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