23 June 2007

The Walk

by Joshua Worley

It's a special thing when one can see the brilliance of a long, legendary career captured in a single moment. It's even more special when one can see that moment very early in a career, when the greatness to come is mere potential, when no one really knows what shape it will take. And it's a joy worth recording when that moment of captured future brilliance comes in such an unexpected way, like a revelation.

To truly excel at almost anything requires discipline. Talent must be focused. Drive must be unleashed at the proper times. When Matt Kemp came up in the ninth inning, I wanted to see him hit the ball hard. ( Heck, I wanted to hit a ball hard, if that makes sense. ) I wanted a home run from him, like the ones we saw last year, like the one he hit earlier this year. I wanted that tie game so bad. How much must Kemp have wanted it? I can't even imagine.

After his very small mistake that had such horrible consequences earlier in the game, he must have wanted it so bad. When he was at the plate in the top of the seventh with a 2-0 count with one out and the bases loaded, ready to break the tie, he had a world of good possibilities in front of him. There were so many ways for him to unleash his talent and put the Dodgers ahead. Instead, he was just a tiniest bit too undisciplined. It's the sort of slip-up that wouldn't even be worth mentioning, were the consequences not so devastating. Kemp swung at a pitch that wasn't in a place he could really crush it. In that situation, with the pitcher nearly at your mercy, you just don't swing at that tough inside pitch. I think it had some good movement on it. It was almost certainly a strike. But it wasn't the pitch that Kemp should have swung at there, and he made two outs without a run scoring. Even his great speed or power couldn't save him. The ball was hit right where they wanted it hit. And Kemp was so distraught after, banging his helmet in frustration in the dugout. Such a small mistake, and that is the price?

So now Kemp was up in the ninth with two outs, with the Dodgers down by a run, about to lose a horribly frustrating game, and he is the last chance. His home run power is their last chance, and he must know it. He's got to want to make up for that awful, small mistake with a home run to tie the game.

And here is the glimpse of brilliance, the joy of an entire legendary career seen in one moment: he maintained his discipline. This is the moment that gives me great hope that he really can have a long, legendary career. He didn't say to himself, "I have to hit a home run." When the count got to 0-2, he didn't just swing for the fences at whatever was offered. He took pitches out of the zone. He took a pitch that couldn't have been more than an inch off the plate! And finally he walked. It wasn't just strike out or home run for Matt Kemp there. The pure ability of Matt Kemp is something to behold, but that walk, that discipline, is something really special, something that will separate him from many other talented players. I'm sure he has a lot of work yet to do, but I have no doubt now that it can all come together for him. This is a leap of faith, perhaps still an overreach, but I have no doubt now: Matt Kemp can focus the incredible talent he has. That walk, that amazingly disciplined walk, especially after the frustration that came before: that's what I will remember years from now about today's game. It is why I will remember today's game.

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