“The day after Clayton starts a game, long before the gates open and fans enter the stadium, he’s already at work preparing for the next start. The fact that he’s out there, ready to go the day, after isn’t unique–most starting pitchers have a routine between starts. Weight lifting, conditioning and a throwing schedule are the norm. In fact, because most starters strictly follow this routine, they are considered stubborn, detailed and even superstitious. The ones who take it to the extreme are called crazy. Clayton is down-right insane.” (A.J. Ellis in Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself)
Clayton Kershaw is one of the baseball’s greatest stars. His career earned run average (ERA) is the lowest among starters in the live-ball era with a minimum of 1,000 innings pitched. He is also a three-time Cy Young Award winner and the 2014 National League Most Valuable Player. He became the first pitcher in history to lead MLB in ERA for four consecutive years when he did so in the 2011 through 2014 seasons. Back in 2013 he was was the fastest Dodger to 1000 strikeouts, while earlier this season he became the second-youngest active player to reach 100 wins at 27 years, 57 days old. Just days ago, Kershaw became only the third Dodgers pitcher to make five consecutive All-Star games – the others were Sandy Koufax and Fernando Valenzuela. Even in a downseason when compared only to his phenomenal track record, Clayton Kershaw is still undisputedly regarded as one of baseball’s elite hurlers.
Clayton Edward Kershaw was born on March 19, 1988, in Dallas, Texas, and lived in nearby Highland Park. When Clayton and his best buddy, Matthew Stafford were 12, Matthew’s dad, John, coached them in baseball. Kershaw had pinpoint control and a filthy changeup. When Kershaw pitched and Stafford caught, they formed a potent combination.
As a child, Clayton played team sports such as baseball and soccer at the Highland Park High School, which had one of the most successful sports programs in Texas – they won state titles in tennis, swimming and many other sports. Football was the top sport at the school, however. In 2003, Clayton played center on Highland Park’s freshman football team and Stafford was the quarterback. Kershaw and Stafford were teammates often and sometimes rivals in soccer, football, baseball and basketball. When they got bored of real sports, they made up their own games. At Kershaw’s house, they played hallway hockey, the rare game they played inside. It involved sawed-off hockey sticks, a roller hockey ball, pillows for their knees and chest, and a line of tape strung the width of the hall to mark off the goal. After freshman year, Clayton quit the football team, and Matthew stopped playing baseball after his sophomore season.
Clayton worked hard to become a better pitcher after he stopped playing football. He began lifting weights. “By the end of his junior year, you could tell he was special,” said Lew Kennedy, Kershaw’s varsity baseball coach. “People were taking notice by then. There were a lot of radar guns in the stands.” By his senior year, Clayton’s body was full of muscle and by his senior season he became the best player on the Highland Park baseball team. He also grew to six feet three inches tall. Outside of team practice, he trained with Skip Johnson, who was a baseball coach at nearby Navarro College at the time. He and Clayton practiced pitching together once a week for almost three months. “That was actually the first real pitching lesson I ever had,” Clayton said. Working with Coach Johnson paid off. Clayton’s pitches were faster than ever. In a game against Northwest High School in May 2006, he struck out all 15 batters he faced.
As a senior, Clayton had a perfect record of 13 wins and zero losses for Highland Park. He struck out 139 batters in 64 innings. His earned run average (ERA) was an incredible 0.77. In their story on Clayton, Baseball America called him “the top high school prospect” in the country, so he drew the attention of scouts from all around the country and many colleges offered him scholarships. However, in June 2006, MLB held its annual draft, where the Los Angeles Dodgers chose Clayton with the seventh overall pick. Kershaw was the first high school player chosen in that year’s draft.
The young pitcher had a tough decision to make. He could take one of the scholarships and go to college. Or he could start playing professional baseball right away. Clayton’s first college choice was Texas A&M University. His girlfriend, Ellen, was set to attend the school that fall. But Clayton couldn’t pass up the chance to get paid to play baseball. He decided not to go to college.
In 2008, the Dodgers assigned Clayton to Jacksonville again. But he didn’t stay with the team for long. After pitching in 13 games for the Suns, the Dodgers called Clayton to the major leagues. Clayton’s first MLB game was on May 25, 2008 in Los Angeles against the St. Louis Cardinals. He allowed two runs in six innings, struck out seven batters and gave up only five hits. The Dodgers won the game, 4–3. Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt was impressed with Clayton. “He’s just a great kid, willing to learn,” Honeycutt said. “He’s the whole package.” Clayton pitched in 22 games for the Dodgers in 2008. But his 4.26 ERA for the season showed that he still had some learning to do.
In 2009, he pitched for Los Angeles all season. His 2.79 ERA was eighth best in MLB. He struck out 185 batters in 171 innings. The next season, Clayton had the league’s 12th best ERA at 2.91. After just two MLB seasons, Clayton had become one of the game’s best pitchers. During his first spring training with the club, legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully called his devastating curveball, “Public Enemy No. 1” and he quickly began drawing comparisons to another legendary Dodger lefty, Sandy Koufax.
In December 2010, Clayton and longtime-girlfriend Ellen got married. The two began planning a trip to Zambia in Africa. One month after their wedding, Ellen and Clayton travelled to Zambia, which really had a big effect on Clayton. It was there where he decided he wants to do something good for this world besides baseball. Clayton has also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and two years later, the Kershaws built a home for children without parents in Zambia. It was his humanitarianism that won him the Roberto Clemente Award, which is a annual award that MLB gives to a player who helps others outside of baseball.
The 2011 season was Clayton’s finest yet. He won 21 games and lost only five. His 2.28 ERA led all major-league pitchers. Clayton earned the 2011 Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in MLB’s National League (NL). In 2012, Clayton’s ERA of 2.53 was tops in MLB for the second year in a row.
In 2013, Clayton posted an incredible 1.83 ERA over 236 innings. He was awarded the Cy Young for the second time. The Dodgers finished the season in first place in their division by a whopping 11 games. But Los Angeles lost to the Cardinals in the playoffs.
In October 2014, the Dodgers finished in first place in the NL West. Clayton reached the top of his game, leading MLB in ERA and wins. On June 18, 2014, Kershaw threw a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in one of the most dominant performances in baseball history. That game came in the midst of a stretch in which he threw 41 scoreless innings, the sixth longest in baseball’s expansion era.
“He’s the best pitcher on the planet right now,” Dodgers catcher A. J. Ellis said. “There’s nobody even close.” Kershaw was awarded the Cy Young for the third time in 2014, as well as named the National League Most Valuable Player. He extended his contract with the LA Dodgers organization in January 2014 – he will receive $215m over a seven-years span, which makes him the first MLB player with an average salary over $30 million. Kershaw’s contract is the richest deal for a pitcher in baseball history and his average annual salary of $30.7 million is the largest for any player. This year he will make about $909,000 for each start.
Although the first two months of his 2015 season were less-than-stellar, his statistics improved later on and he still leads the major leagues with 160 strikeouts this season. Clayton Kershaw threw his first shutout of the year against the Phillies a week ago, his first of the year, striking out 13 and walking none.
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw has been one of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) best pitchers since he joined the league in 2008. Clayton’s powerful left arm brought him to the top of the baseball world. His hard work and dedication have helped keep him there. But it is his passion that has made him a star on and off the baseball field.
Adapted by Jon M. Fishman book (by Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., 2015)
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