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Kenley Jansen meets childhood idol Shaq; scratches item off bucket list

ATLANTA -- While much of Kenley Jansen's work is done late in games, often deep into the night as the Los Angeles Dodgers' closer, he was not always allowed to be such a night owl.

Jansen grew up in Curacao idolizing, not a baseball player, but NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal. It was a curious affinity, indeed, and one that was placed on a time limit.

"I would watch the first quarter [of games], then I had to go to sleep," Jansen said.

Some habits are hard to break, and Jansen never lost his love for O'Neal. He got a chance to meet his idol Monday night at the TNT studios in Atlanta. The visit was arranged by Dodgers radio reporter David Vassegh.

"He was my favorite player growing up as a kid and that was my dream to meet Shaq so I got that chance," Jansen said. "I will always remember it."

Jansen said he also enjoyed the chance to meet Charles Barkley, and get reacquainted with Kenny Smith, who he met for the first time last year in Los Angeles.

The evening supplied something of a respite from his day (evening?) job, not to mention a little inspiration. And it served as something of a reminder of how far Jensen has come since O'Neal knew his visitor well from Jensen's work as Dodgers closer.

Jansen already is closing in on Dodgers history. Thanks to his current streak of 17 consecutive converted save opportunities, he is just 14 saves off Eric Gagne's franchise record of 161 total saves.

This season he is already 5-for-5 in save opportunities, allowing just two base runners in his 5 2/3 innings of work. Both of those base runners came from singles. His save total is tied for the major league lead.

"Whenever I can help the team get a chance to win it's always going to feel great," Jansen said.

The bullpen is back on track now after a rough start, but even when it was struggling in the early going, Jansen always supplied a reliable presence.

"Everybody is going to go through that bump, you know?" Jansen said. "The Kansas City Royals are going to go through that bump, I promise you that. I think we're OK; we're good. Those guys, the ones we have, are legit and they're going to do the job. They're going to come through with their opportunities."

The better the rest of the bullpen is, the more save chances Jensen will get. And he is not just satisfied in doing his job well, he wants to make a statement. It's a little something he learned while watching O'Neal in his youth.

"Wherever Shaq went that was my team," Jansen said. "Growing up, watching the Orlando Magic with Shaq, I fell in love with Shaq breaking the rims."

It's not exactly rims that Jansen has in sight now, but breaking the franchise save record at some point before the All-Star break would be a solid way to get his own attention.