Former Cobber Kemp making a name in international baseball
GRAND FORKS - Play baseball. See the world. That's been life in recent years for Matt Kemp. The former Cavalier (N.D.) High School standout went to Concordia College in Moorhead planning to study pre-law. But a career in the judicial courts has b...
GRAND FORKS - Play baseball. See the world.
That's been life in recent years for Matt Kemp. The former Cavalier (N.D.) High School standout went to Concordia College in Moorhead planning to study pre-law. But a career in the judicial courts has been sidetracked by a global-trekking life revolving around baseball fields.
Kemp just completed his fourth season playing semipro ball in Germany. Now he's preparing for a return to Australia for his third season playing there. Since completing his eligibility at Concordia in the spring of 2005, Kemp has been paid to play baseball in four continents and five countries - Canada, the United States, Germany, South Africa and Australia.
Law school? "I'm doing the baseball thing now," Kemp said. "It's hard to talk about yourself. But I think I've made a little name for myself in baseball (overseas)."
A long journey
Kemp was a standout baseball player at Cavalier High School, from which he graduated in 2001. He was a contributor, but not a star, during his pitching career at Concordia. But Kemp was persistent in his pursuit of baseball, thanks in part to former Cobbers teammate Derek Dermania, who went on to play for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
The two started working out together and Kemp started seeing improvements.
"I came out of college throwing 85-87 miles an hour," Kemp said. "We tweaked my mechanics, and I've worked my way up to where now I'm consistently hitting 91-92.
"I bounced around a little, trying to hook on with teams in the Frontier and Northern (independent pro) leagues. A buddy put my name out there online and I wound up getting some calls."
That's resulted in somewhat of a vagabond lifestyle.
His first pro stop was a month in Edmonton in the Frontier League in 2006. In 2008, he began pitching in Dortmund, Germany, where he's also been his team's head coach the past two seasons. He pitched in the winter of 2008-09 for a team in Cape Town, South Africa, and now is preparing for his third season in Australia, where he'll be player-coach of a team in the Melbourne area.
In Germany, South Africa and Australia, Kemp said semipro would probably be a more apt description. It is club baseball, with clubs sponsoring teams from t-ball and youth leagues all the way to the pay-for-play level in which Kemp competes.
"You can probably use the term pro player loosely," the 28-year-old Kemp said. "Only about half the guys on our team in Germany get paid anything. If you throw everything together - a place to live, the European health care system plus wages - I'm probably making around $1,500 a month. And I'm probably one of the higher-paid guys in the league because I'm a player-coach.
"Even in the Northern League, I think there was a misconception that players make a lot of money. We don't. I'm not really doing it for the money."
Level of play varies
Kemp said the Netherlands and Italy, the baseball hotbeds in Europe, have teams that probably would be comparable to Class AA or high A pro baseball in the United States. Countries such as Germany, Spain and Czechoslovakia, he said, are probably more of a rookie-league level.
"In Germany, some of the lower-level teams would have difficulty competing in NCAA Division I," Kemp said.
The pro teams in Germany play two doubleheaders on weekends and practice three times a week. The ballparks aren't big - Kemp said Kraft Field in Grand Forks is comparable to most of the parks in which he plays - and the average attendance for games is around 400 to 500.
Kemp is trying to help baseball get a foothold in parts of the world where soccer is the craze and other sports are more popular. But he hopes he can continue to play - and promote - for years to come.
"I love Europe," Kemp said. "The lifestyle is more laid-back than back home.
"I train regularly. I'm in better shape now than I was two years ago. Barring injury I think I can probably continue pitching at a high level here for at least 4-5 years. But I really want to get more into coaching. I want to be part of the game. I'm really excited to see how the game has progressed overseas. But it is at the grassroots level."
DeVillers writes for the Grand Forks Herald