New book details Kershaw's rise to big leagues
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw is two people.
One of them, the one we've watched pitch the past four summers at Dodger Stadium, is a tough, gritty left-hander who stares down batters and is obsessed with winning.
The other, the one we know little about, is a caring, giving person – a true humanitarian who cares about helping people and using his celebrity as a platform to make a difference.
Can they both be the same? It feels a bit incongruous, but Kershaw is Tim Tebow without the over-the-top public profile. He's a Christian who wants to leave a legacy, one based on doing good works rather than 20-win seasons.
People don't want to hear about this kind of stuff, but if you want to know what makes Kershaw tick, you should pick up the book he and his wife Ellen wrote with the help of Ellen's sister, Ann Higginbottom. It's called "Arise," and it's about more than baseball. In it, the Kershaws write about their relationship, about Clayton's rise to the major leagues with the Dodgers and about their passion to help orphan children in Zambia.
They recently returned from another trip to the southern African nation, where they partnered with a Dallas-based non-profit, Arise Africa, to help build an orphanage, purchase farm land and provide school and medical supplies.
But their trips are also about showing their love for the children, who know nothing about baseball or Cy Young awards or million-dollar ballplayers. For Clayton, it's a chance to simply be himself and bond with kids in need.
"It comes very naturally for him," Ellen said Monday at Dodger Stadium. "He's like a human jungle gym over there. He's got five kids on him at all times. They are just drawn to him. It's sweet for me to watch."
Now comes business. Kershaw is arbitration eligible, so he and the Dodgers must submit their proposed 2012 salary figures by Tuesday. There's little doubt his pay is going to rise tenfold or more from the $500,000 he earned last season, but how much is the question.
"I'm not going to talk about that right now," he said.
Kershaw is coming off a 21-5 season in which he led the National League in ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248). He also won the Cy Young. Whether he wins or loses in arbitration, his salary is going to make a sizable leap, but in his case, the Dodgers would prefer to come to an agreement than have to argue giving him a lesser amount than he's asking. Hearings will take place in February.
Arbitration hearings can be testy and contentious, and players frequently leave them feeling less than appreciated. The Dodgers don't want that.
"That's part of it," Kershaw said of the possibility of a confrontational hearing. "It's my first time, so we'll see what happens."
Kershaw's interest and passion for the Zambian orphans come from his wife, who has visited the country several times and convinced her husband to make his first trip last year after the season ended.
Admittedly, he wasn't sure about it. But the more they talked, the more it seemed like a way he could help the children and create a purpose for himself.
"Ellen always asks me, 'What do you want your legacy to be when you're done playing baseball? There's going to be people that always come after you, that always are better than you, that are always going to break whatever records you get or win more games or do whatever.' You start thinking about that," he said.
"You want to be remembered for something other than baseball, and I think that's the point. That's kind of the whole life purpose that we're trying to figure out."
So she took him to Zambia, and there he found a way to make a legacy beyond throwing strikeouts or winning awards. They built an orphanage and brought smiles to children's faces. They played soccer and laughed. They shared their love.
Last year, through a program called Kershaw's Challenge, they pledged $100 for every strikeout he threw, with the money going toward the orphanage. They'll do something similar this season in order to buy furniture and needed supplies.
"I don't think there's a coincidence that he did as great as he did with the purpose he had behind every strikeout," Ellen said. "Clayton made a pledge at the beginning of the season that he was going to strikeout to serve. I think having that as your motivation and having a greater perspective throughout the season – honestly, the Lord richly blessed him throughout the process."
If all that sounds Tebowesque, it shouldn't. Kershaw is low key, and although he doesn't hide his faith, he also doesn't put it out front, as some have accused Tebow of doing.
"On the field, I have job to do and that's what I'm focused on," Kershaw said. "Not to say I separate the two, but I guess you could say I'm a little more understated than Tim is. That's not saying either one is wrong. That's just kind of my personality."
He got in his baseball work during their eight-day stay in Africa, pitching to a blue tarp or playing long toss with his brother-in-law, a former high school player. But the kids there know nothing about baseball. They're into soccer and rugby and cricket. They don't know Matt Kemp from Matt Holiday.
"They see a ball and they want to play," Kershaw said. "I think they'd rather kick it than throw it, but I'm getting better in soccer, so that's what we're doing."
He also rode a zip line across Victoria Falls (Dodgers, take note), but that's about as touristy as it got. There was too much work to do for the kids – and too much playing, too.
"A lot of them don't have parents," he said. "So they don't have the attention that kids need. If they see anybody that's an adult figure giving them the time of day, they're the happiest people in the world and they don't want to let go. That's something that feels rewarding to go over there and do."
And when you think about it, it's something that wins or strikeouts just can't match.