Clayton Kershaw: Great Player, Great Person

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When the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted 18-year-old Clayton Kershaw with the seventh overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, everyone knew the Dodgers were getting a great baseball player. He had gone 13-0 with a 0.77 ERA his senior year at Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas. Along with Tim Lincecum and Evan Longoria, Kershaw has been one of the stars of a strong draft class.

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He broke into the Major Leagues in 2008 and had a successful rookie year. In 2011, Clayton had his breakout year. At age 23, he went 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA. That year he won the National League Cy Young Award. Since then, he has been considered one of the best pitchers in the majors. His success is based on a diverse arsenal of pitches and great size. He has a high-90s fastball and a curveball that legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully dubbed “public enemy number one.” When you combine his unique pitching skills and his 6’3”, 220-pound stature, you have a left-handed pitcher who dominates.

Like many Dodgers fans, Clayton is excited about the upcoming season because of all the acquisitions the Dodgers have made through trades and free agency. “I’m excited about the season,” Clayton says. “We’ve got a lot of new guys coming in and a lot of opportunities to succeed. I’m looking forward to getting to spring training, meeting some of our new guys, and really just starting to build some chemistry with them. That’s going to be big for us with a lot of new players.”

Clayton and all Dodgers fans are excited at the prospect of the Dodgers beating their rivals, the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. With a revamped lineup and a loaded pitching rotation, the Dodgers look to have a great shot to threaten the Giants in the NL West. “I think we’ve got a really good team. Obviously [the Giants] are at the top of their game right now and they’re the team to beat. We definitely have to go through them. Fortunately for us we get to play them a lot, so I’m looking forward to playing them.”

In addition to making an impact on the field, Clayton is making an amazing impact outside of baseball. In 2011, he and his wife Ellen took their first trip to Zambia together (Ellen took her first trip there when she was a freshman at Texas A&M). They also started their foundation, Kershaw’s Challenge, so that they could do more for the children in Zambia. In Zambia, one out of every six children is an orphan, and many of them are HIV positive. The biggest impact the Kershaws have made in Zambia so far is building a group home for eight orphans in Lusaka, the country’s capital. The inspiration for the group home was an HIV-positive 13-year-old girl named Hope, who Ellen met on a trip to Zambia and who she instantly had a connection with. “[Hope] is the one who inspired us to build a home over in Africa,” Ellen says, “She basically gave us the idea to start Kershaw’s Challenge.”

While in Africa, Clayton never stops training for baseball. “This year it was great because one of my teammates/one of my best friends [Dodgers prospect, Shawn Tolleson] went over there with us, so we got to throw everyday and work out together,” Clayton says, “It’s definitely not like America where you have everything at your fingertips, but we got it done and it was a lot of fun.”

Clayton and Ellen’s contributions haven’t stopped at providing education for Hope and building her home. During the 2011 and ’12 seasons, the Kershaws donated money to a variety of different charities every time Clayton struck a batter out. The promotion was called Strikeout to Serve. Fortunately, Clayton led the majors in strikeouts in 2011.

Last season Clayton was given the Roberto Clemente Award, which is awarded to the Major League player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team. He has deservedly been recognized for his accomplishments both on and off the field.

Clayton and Ellen hope they can motivate kids to get involved with charity. “We just want kids to use what they’re good at to start giving back to a charity,” Ellen says.

It’s amazing to see such inspirational people at work. They put aside the notion that you can’t change the world if you’re young – Clayton is 24 and Ellen is 25. Looking at them, you see people who want to do good things and make the world a better place. Kids often look up to athletes solely because of their contributions on the field, but Clayton Kershaw is an example of someone doing amazing things both on and off the field.