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04/06/12 12:50 AM ET
Kemp, Maybin put on show in opener
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- The best athlete in Petco Park on Opening Day -- Matt Kemp, Cameron Maybin or Magic Johnson -- was open to debate. There could be no dispute about how thoroughly entertaining Kemp and Maybin, the two center fielders, were for Johnson, part of the Dodgers' incoming ownership group. Johnson was seated alongside outgoing owner Frank McCourt in the front row next to the visitors' dugout. Kemp, who led the National League in homers, RBIs and runs, was third in batting average and second in steals in 2011, picked up where he left off with an opposite-field, two-run homer along with a single. His three RBIs drove the Dodgers to a 5-3 decision with only three scoreless innings from reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who left with the stomach flu. The Padres' Maybin launched a two-run homer an estimated 445 feet, tying for seventh-farthest hit in the cavernous park known for its thick marine layer and intimidating dimensions. Both homers came in the eighth inning. After Kemp provided breathing room for the bullpen, Maybin gave his team and the Padres partisans in the sellout crowd hope the home side could rally and steal it. But it was Kemp enjoying the last laugh with the happy ending amid "M-V-P" chants. He also was awarded the seal of approval from the Magic Man. "It was good seeing Magic," Kemp said. "I've seen him before, but we've never had a conversation. I met him before the game. He walked in our dugout and said, 'You look focused; I don't want to bother you.' He said, 'Congratulations on everything and go get 'em.' "Right when I came in the dugout after the home run, he stuck his head in the dugout and said, 'Nice going, kid.' That's Magic Johnson." Mention of those "M-V-P" chants brought a grin from Kemp, who ran second to the Brewers' Ryan Braun in a much-debated 2011 ballot. "They're jumping the gun a little bit," Kemp said. "We've got 161 left. Let's take it game by game. But it's a good feeling for our fans to drive two hours down to San Diego and fill up the stadium. To hear your name is a great feeling." Maybin and Kemp got to know each other during Spring Training in 2011 in Arizona and have developed a close bond. But that ends when they step between the lines. "He's my guy, my buddy," Maybin said. "But when we show up on the field, it's time to play ball. We don't talk on the field. He's super competitive, and so am I. "When it's all said and done, what you saw out there today, I think you'll be seeing it from us for a long time." Maybin's blast traveled an estimated 64 feet deeper than Kemp's, amazing in several respects. San Diego's leadoff man, Maybin had nine home runs last season and owns 23 in his career. Kemp, who launched 39 in 2011 and has targeted 50 (along with 50 steals this season), entered his sixth season with 129 homers. "That was a prime example of how strong he is," Maybin said. "He got it out in a place not many right-handed hitters are able to reach. He barreled it but kind of missed that ball -- and still got enough backspin on it. He's one of those special guys who can do things like that." Maybin is filling out his 6-foot-3 frame at 210 pounds and beginning to fulfill his promise at 25 in his third full season, with his third organization. After Detroit dealt him to Florida in the Miguel Cabrera swap following the 2007 season, the Marlins enriched the Padres at the cost of pitchers Edward Mujica and Brian Webb after the 2010 season. Kemp is two years older, an inch taller, 15 pounds heavier and far more experienced. "He hit that ball today," Kemp said approvingly of Maybin. "He's a good dude with a lot of talent. Works hard." When Maybin watches Kemp he sees the player he wants to be and a level of excellence he believes he can approach. "I put him at the top of my list," Maybin said when asked if he views Kemp as the game's best player. "Factor in his offense, the position he plays and the way he plays it, it's got to be Kemp. They talk about five-tool players -- Matt's a six-tool guy, whatever that sixth tool is. He can do it all. "In the offseason, if I need anything, I'm not scared to ask Kemp. What I love about him is he keeps it real. That's why I've got so much respect for him. He's a big star, but he doesn't act like it." One thing Kemp won't give Maybin, apparently, is a piece of wood the Padres' leadoff man might use to hurt the Dodgers. "He won't give me one of his bats, he told me, until he's done," Maybin said, beaming. "He said, 'I don't want you to use it and beat us with it.' "When it's time to compete, it's time to compete. You've got to respect that."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.