All-Star Kemp wants to stay aligned with LA
Ethier, Kershaw excited to represent Dodgers at Classic
PHOENIX -- Alighting in the smoldering desert for his first All-Star Game, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp insisted that he was "on Cloud 9," triple digits notwithstanding.
Kemp also said something that ought to warm the hearts and soothe the minds of fitful Dodgers faithful.
"I would love to stay in Los Angeles," the midseason National League Most Valuable Player candidate said on Monday, the eve of the Midsummer Classic. "I would give the Dodgers all the chances in the world to sign me back. It's the team that had faith in me and gave me a chance to become a Major League baseball player. I have nothing but great things to say about the organization. I have a lot of friends there."
The unstable financial status of the franchise that moved the sport to the West Coast 53 years ago has fans wondering whether it will be able to retain the likes of Kemp and fellow All-Stars Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw down the road when they become eligible for free agency.
"I have a lot of friends there," said Kemp, whose contract expires after the 2012 season, referring to Southern California. "I like the way it is, the way it's set up. I like my ballclub.
"I had great teachers down in the Minor Leagues. What the Dodgers did is they kept us all together. Right now, we're having fun, but we're not winning. It's way more fun to win baseball games.
NL STARTING NINE
"We have all the ability in the world. I feel my team can compete with anybody in the National League or American League. We need to get more big hits with runners on base. We have to score more runs. That's what we have not been doing."
Kemp and Ethier have done their part to lift the offense.
Rebounding from a disappointing 2010, Kemp joined current first-base coach Davey Lopes as the only Los Angeles Dodgers to have at least 20 homers and 20 steals before the All-Star break. Kemp has the longest active consecutive games played streak in the Major Leagues (296) and leads the Dodgers with 22 homers, 67 RBIs, 55 runs scored, 47 walks, 27 stolen bases, a .584 slugging percentage and .398 on-base percentage.
Asked about his MVP credentials, Kemp said: "That would be great, but right now it's about making the playoffs. I would love to get back there like in 2008 and 2009, playing against the Phillies, whoever. It's a great feeling to get in that atmosphere.
"I'm just going out there and playing as hard as I can. We still have a whole half left, and anything can happen."
Kemp was in an upbeat mood in anticipation of his appearance in the State Farm Home Run Derby later Monday. Kemp (@TheRealMattKemp) will interact with fans via Twitter during the event using the hashtag #HRDerby.
"This stadium is definitely hitter-friendly," Kemp said. "I think you're going to see some amazing things. I might wear a blindfold around my head to impresse the crowd, do something crazy."
Kemp burst into laughter, noting that behavior of that sort is generally confined to the NBA's Slam Dunk contest.
The 26-year-old Kemp, with a late rally in the fan voting, overtook Matt Holliday for the third spot in the starting NL outfield. He'll bat third in the lineup. He gives the Dodgers an All-Star starting outfielder for the second consecutive season, after a 19-year drought since Darryl Strawberry had the honor in 1991.
Ethier started in center field last year at Angel Stadium, going 1-for-2 with a strikeout. He was chosen this season as a replacement for Philadelphia's injured Shane Victorino, who won the NL Final Vote with Ethier also on the ballot.
Ethier is among league leaders with a .311 batting average, 102 hits, 23 doubles and seven outfield assists. He has the longest hitting streak in the Majors this year at 30 games.
For Ethier, this was a journey home to his roots, where all those boyhood dreams began right down the road from Chase Field. He watched the Diamondbacks' ballpark under construction in his youth, attending St. Mary's High School in Phoenix and Arizona State University.
"I grew up on 13th Street and Osborne," he said, "not far from the park. We didn't practice on a grass field in high school. You take pride in that, realizing you're playing on one of the best manicured fields in baseball [at Dodger Stadium] 81 games a year.
"It's a long way from Perry Park and practicing there on those all-dirt softball infields."
Having emerged as one of the game's respected clutch hitters, Ethier wouldn't mind coming to the plate in a pressure situation on Tuesday night.
"Part of being a Major League ballplayer is you have to trust yourself to be in those positions," he said. "Believe in yourself, that you can do it."
Kershaw was selected by the players for his first All-Star Game. The 23-year-old Texan is 9-4, leading his team in wins, complete games, shutouts and innings pitched. He is the youngest Dodgers All-Star since 22-year-old Ramon Martinez in 1990 and the first Dodger to lead the Major Leagues in strikeouts at the All-Star break since Martinez that year.
Since his big league debut in 2008, Kershaw leads the Majors in lowest opponents' batting average. He's the Dodgers' first left-handed starting pitcher on an All-Star team since Odalis Perez in 2002.
"It's awesome, being here," Kershaw said. "It's something you never really dream about doing. You dream about making it to the big leagues, but being in the room with these guys ... I'm going to soak it in."
Kershaw has a pointed response to a question about the Dodgers' needs.
"Just win," he said. "That's what we need to do. We have been playing better. Trust yourself and do what you're capable of doing ... do it well and we'll try to fill in the pieces. We've got a great team, whether we add any players or not."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. Ken Gurnick contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.