When the Bronx Bombers were winning 10 American League pennants and eight World Series crowns over a period of 12 seasons beginning in 1947, the common refrain went like this: “It’s great to be young and a Yankee.” Few could argue with the message because the results were unprecedented.
Although slightly exaggerated, instead of Yankee, an updated version could read Dodger, and it’s especially true if one is referring to right fielder Andre Ethier and center fielder Matt Kemp. As luck would have it, Ethier and Kemp began their Dodgers’ careers in 2006, and each made dramatic impacts over the last two seasons.
On cue, Ethier, who turns 28 in April, and Kemp, who will be 26 in September, have provided the Dodgers with a potent 1-2 punch, and superior defensive skills. Look for Ethier and Kemp to make several All-Star teams and win numerous Gold Gloves.
Ethier came to the Dodgers in a trade with the Oakland Athletics, who selected him out of Arizona State in the second round of the 2003 amateur draft. Slowly but surely, Ethier’s power began to manifest, but his unique gift last season was the ability to hit late in the game. Ethier had six game-winning hits, including four homers. “I just focus on hitting the ball hard,” he said of 2009, a season in which he batted .272 with 106 runs batted in and 92 runs scored. “It’s not something that I’m trying to do, it just happens.”
Beginning in 2006, Ethier, who won a Silver Slugger last season, combined to smack 24 homers over two years. He broke out with 20 homers in 2008, and a team-best 31 last season. Coincidentally, the Dodgers won the National League West in 2009 and 2008, but fell to the Philadelphia Phillies each time in five games during the NL Championship Series. Ethier struggled, batting .244 in 10 games, with three RBIs and one homer.
Kemp may be the best all-around player on the team. He runs like a deer, hits with power to all fields, and catches anything hit in his direction. In 2009, Kemp claimed his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, and finished with 26 home runs, 101 RBIs, a .297 batting average and 34 stolen bases.
Some thought Kemp would play professional football after being offered a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma. Luckily, he opted for baseball.
There have been times when Kemp has been criticized for base-running blunders, and throwing to the wrong base. But Kemp, a sixth-round pick in the 2003 draft, threw out 14 runners and committed only two errors for a .995 fielding percentage.
Kemp swiped 69 bases over the last couple of campaigns, and though he may make a mental mistake, will follow that with a clutch hit or a stolen base. In a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008, Kemp lined a ball into the gap, and watching him run was something. Out of the box, Kemp was determined to get a triple. Just how fast he rounded the bases was amazing.
Like Ethier, Kemp, a career .299 hitter, displayed his power after two seasons, belting 44 homers over the following two seasons. These two comprise two-thirds of the outfield, and if both stay healthy, the Dodgers’ future appears rosy.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.