When Athletics utility player Tony Kemp roams around position stretches and batting practice before a home game, he’s jovial, exchanging fist bumps with those watching the pregame action on the field, media members and trainers alike.
That’s Kemp, though, on and off the field.
Despite the impressive slash lines and defensive web gems, Kemp and his wife, Michelle, have personal obligations off the field that will ensure he leaves a legacy behind that is bigger than his stats in between the foul lines.
It began with “Hugs for Homers” during his time with the Houston Astros. What started with Kemp embracing veteran slugger Evan Gattis after home runs turned into a T-shirt with proceeds benefitting Astros Youth Academy.
Then there was the “+1 Effect” where Kemp wanted to have open conversations about race. He and Michelle continue to build off of that.
“With the whole +1 Effect, we just wanted to broaden our search and open up ourselves to more things,” Tony told NBC Sports California. “It just felt right, especially speaking with Joe [Hawkins] and all the things he’s done. His story just kind of touched me and Michelle in a different light.”
Hawkins, the executive director of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center was personally approached by Tony and Michelle.
The Kemps attended the Community Health and Wellness Event on June 26 in honor of National HIV Testing Day.
"The Kemps are the epitome of allyship in our community,” Hawkins told NBC Sports California. “I first met them on a Zoom call and learned that Tony was familiar with our new Glenn Burke Wellness Clinic, named after former A's player who was blackballed from MLB because he was unapologetically out and gay.”
“[Tony and Michelle] both came to our Pride Month wellness fair at Lake Merritt in Oakland and Tony donated some of his gear to raffle off as part of our four-year anniversary coming up in September," Hawkins said. "I feel nothing but positive energy from the Kemps and I am grateful that they are allies on our team."
A lot of it comes from Michelle, of course.
“Michelle’s been doing so much work behind the scenes that no one really sees,” Tony said.
Call it modesty on Michelle’s part, but in all actuality, Tony admits his better half is the brains behind it all.
“When we talked about starting the ‘+1 Effect’ last year after George Floyd’s murder, this all kind of started around race. I’m mixed race, but for Tony, it’s just a totally different thing being a Black man in America,” Michelle said.
Last year, Kemp and former A’s shortstop Marcus Semien were at the forefront of speaking out against racial injustice.
Michelle immediately sprung into action.
“I told him, ‘Listen, whatever you want to do, I just want to be an ally and I want to support you however I can behind the scenes.’”
Tony’s older brother Corey echoed that sentiment.
“I’m very proud of [Tony] and proud of Michelle,” Corey told NBC Sports California. “I feel like I’ve watched both of them grow up, they’re middle school sweethearts so both really, really smart individuals. I can’t say enough about Michelle, she’s been a huge driving force behind the ‘+1 Effect,’ I think they both collectively had the idea. I think a lot of times, the athletes get the praise and the accolades and the pats on the back, but a lot of times it’s the females behind them or the family, and in this case, it’s Michelle.”
Michelle made sure she read the books, listened to the podcast and watched the documentaries as Tony opened up his DMs to those who had questions. Michelle wanted to ensure she had all the resources to provide to those who were curious. The ‘+1 Effect’ was born, and it has flourished.
“I think the big thing about Mich, that I love, if I don’t know how to say something, she knows how I need to say it,” Tony said.
That’s what you get when you get a degree in broadcasting and communications … and a big heart.
The Kemps continued their expansion this year in giving back to AAPI Hate and teamed up with Compassion in Oakland, which was formed in response to the increase of anti-Asian attacks, specifically in the Bay Area. Compassion in Oakland offers chaperones to elderly Asians with the mission to make them feel safe.
This hit home for Michelle, who is half Chinese. Living in Nashville, Tenn., they were in close proximity to an incident where women were killed in the Atlanta area earlier this year. That’s when the conversation began.
Similar violent incidents toward the Asian community began to occur in the Bay Area.
“With everything that was going on we just felt it was really relevant in the Bay Area,” Michelle said. “I just said, ‘Listen, I feel like with you being in Oakland I think it would be a really good idea to engrain ourselves in the community out here."
All of their work with charities are anchored to The Players Alliance which is focused on building equitable systems in order to change the trajectory of diversity throughout baseball. More than 150 current and former Black professional players use their platform to create increased opportunities for the Black community.
It’s more than money, too. The Kemps want to physically be at some of these events.
“You can’t put a price on your time, and showing your face at an event,” Michelle said. “For us, the money is obviously very helpful, but I think there’s just a factor of showing up and giving that time, giving that energy and making sure people understand, ‘I’m invested in this, I’m an ally for you, and I really support this lifestyle or your background, whatever it may be.’”
Quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic didn’t make these conversations going away. If anything, it enhanced them. Tony laughed as he said he’s been working on communicating better in their marriage to which Michelle agreed.
“I think that it’s been good because obviously everything that started happening last year was really affecting Tony and therefore affecting me,” Michelle said. “Not that the table has turned, I think it’s always a race conversation, but when the Asian hate started happening I think he was able to support me as well.”
Michelle said she plans to attend a rally event in the Bay Area to support AAPI in early August.
The difference they’re making is noticeable.
As Tony left a recent game at Oracle Park during the Bay Bridge Series, a man decked out in Giants garb approached him and asked if he was Tony Kemp. The man said he just wanted to shake Kemp’s hand and say he noticed everything he was doing on social media and bringing everything to light.
“I know that’s a small example of it, but if everyone we touched was able to come up to us and shake our hand or give us a hug and say. ‘Thank you for the things we’re bringing to light,’ I think it would be a really long line,” Kemp said.