2:15 AM EDT, May 8, 2013
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.”
In the case of Joshua Jones, Kemp has no idea how much bigger. A couple of weeks ago, after a three-year battle with cancer, Jones decided to stop chemotherapy treatments that no longer helped. A group of family and friends had pooled their money to buy four front-row seats so he could see his beloved Dodgers one last time.
“This was our one chance to see Josh's favorite team and favorite player,” Ryan said. “It was a special, special day.”
Nobody on the Dodgers knew Joshua. Wallach saw him sitting in blue early in the game, walked over from the third base coaching box to hand him a ball, and then later was summoned by his father Steve with a request to meet Kemp.
“He asked if there was any chance I could get Matt to come over and say hi to him,” Wallach said. “I told him, ‘I can certainly ask.'”
Wallach knew there were no guarantees that Kemp would think about anybody's troubles but his own. Kemp has been the biggest disappointment on one of baseball's most disappointing teams. Before Tuesday's game, he had only one homer and 14 RBIs with a .342 slugging percentage worse than both A.J. and Mark Ellis.
Who knows what is wrong with him? He says he doesn't know. The Dodgers say they don't know. Maybe it's the dramatic off-season weight loss. Maybe he's still fighting through this winter's shoulder surgery. Maybe the injured shoulder changed his hitting mechanics.
“I don't want it to seem like I'm making any excuses for me not playing the way I should be playing,” Kemp said. “I need to get better.”
He might have thought he didn't need to walk through the nastiness of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry one more time after Sunday's sweep. But he did it anyway, with such conviction that even the sea of orange and black applauded.
“It's the first time Giants fans have ever been nice to me, that's pretty cool right there,” Kemp said..
Somewhere along the line, even as his strength has waned, it seems Kemp has gained perspective.
“I don't think some athletes understand how big it is to be an athlete, what they can do with just a simple gesture of shaking a kid's hand,” Kemp said. “It can make a fan's day. It can make a fan's life.”
Joshua said he was sorry he couldn't shake Kemp's hand, but his limbs are slowly going numb from the tumors. He said he wants to Kemp to know that he nonetheless felt truly touched.
“He's such a nice person,” Joshua said. “He really cares about his fans.”
Kemp shook his head. He said he's the one who has been touched.
“Sometimes I forget how much people look at you as their hero,” he said. “I forget that.”
Matt Kemp has lost his power? Really?
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