I was watching a Rockies-Dodgers game the other night when, to my surprise, Matt Kemp stepped up to the plate...in a Rockies uniform.
I've been a fan of Kemp's for a while now -- mostly thanks to a particularly touching interaction he had with a fan few years back -- but I honestly forgot he was even still in baseball. The Rockies picking him up after the Marlins let him go earlier this season. Matt Kemp's 35 now, and even though he came out of nowhere to be an All-Star in 2018, his best days looked way behind him when I saw him hit the other night. He looked less agile, slightly pudgier, and just generally over-the-hill. And even though, in reality, he's only seven years older than I am, Matt Kemp just plain looked old.
It didn't really affect me at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if this was a marker of something larger.
Kemp struck out in the at-bat I watched, and looked awful doing it.
If there's a silver lining here, it's that Kemp did wind up hitting a game-winning two-run homer against his old team later that game (though I was in bed when it happened). But still, the image of him walking back to the dugout after an easy strikeout, looking older and nothing like the Matt Kemp I remember, has stuck with me in the days since.
It's true -- I guess I'm at the point now where I'm starting to see some of the players I grew up watching get old, chewed up and spit out by the baseball machine.
Part of the beauty of baseball cards is that they offer permanent reminders of the heydays of our favorite players, as is the case with the smattering of prime-era Kemps I recently received from ex-blogger and current Twitterer Michael S. -- you veteran bloggers might remember him as Spiegel from "Nomo's Sushi Platter."
I traded with Michael a lot in my earlier blogging days -- it was great to see him reach out to me on Twitter and, better yet, offer to send me some cards! The two pages I've shown here were just a fraction of all the Kemps he sent me over two separate packages, most of which were new to me.
(Also, I didn't even notice he sent me two different copies of that numbered Triple Threads Kemp -- maybe I should consider cornering the market on those.)
Michael slipped in some side orders with the main course of Kemps -- here's a few adds to my new Mo Vaughn collection.
I've always liked Mo Vaughn, and I vaguely remember his last years with the Mets, but for whatever reason it took until last year for me to really start hoarding his cards.
A bunch of fine adds to some of my more tenured player collections.
Sadly, I have no memories of Tony Gwynn as a player -- I bet people slightly older than myself went through a similar version of my Matt Kemp experience watching Mr. Padre get older.
Gwynn's quickly blossomed into one of my larger player collections, and while I've never put much effort into chasing these '80s Fleer minis, I'm thrilled to add them to the binders.
A fine helping of Cubs -- all-time greats and colossal busts alike.
Michael even found a few new mini-collection hits for me -- I darn near missed the busted bat Juan Samuel's flinging away there.
As the players wander into the past, so does the game itself, in some ways -- given today's rules, I doubt we'll see another card quite as violent as this one ever again.
Being a baseball fan is mostly a joy, but the emotions of the game often wander past the simple limits of watching your favorite team win or lose. Sometimes the game gets tied up in us, tells us something about ourselves. For his sake, I hope Matt Kemp plays as long as he wants to, and as well as he can for whatever team gives him a job. He deserves that.
But it'll never be easy to watch my favorite players get old, because it means I'm not too far behind.