Kershaw=Koufax? Clayton Says He’s Honored

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw, a pitcher for MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers, showed up for a 6 p.m. charity reception at Dallas’ Belo Mansion last night right at 6 p.m., long before the other VIPs arrived. And the Highland Park High School grad, who was there with his wife, Ellen, to have dinner and participate in a panel discussion, was as polite and affable with the paying guests as could be. Perhaps surprisingly, for a superstar who’s pulling down nearly 8 mil anually, at the tender age of 24.

But you got the idea his humility’s no act.

Kershaw calls himself “a Christian who plays baseball,” and last night’s event was a benefit for the Christian-oriented Voice of Hope, which serves inner-city families in West Dallas. Ellen’s father is on the nonprofit group’s board and Ellen and Clayton, who take their faith seriously, are involved in raising money for Arise Africa, a charity for needy African children. Last night, though, all anybody wanted to hear from Clayton about was baseball.

During the panel discussion, Kershaw told how the first time he appeared at Dodger Stadium, he came out wearing his teammate Jason Schmidt’s jersey. He was so nervous, he’d put it on by mistake.

Somebody mentioned bean-balling–where pitchers throw at batters intentionally, in retaliation for something or other–and asked what he thought of the practice. Kershaw recalled how, after one of the L.A. stars was beaned by the opposing pitcher, Dodger manager Joe Torre told him, “It’s your last inning. Make it count!” Said Clayton: “I didn’t know what he meant. But … I made it count!”

Then he was asked what’s really said at those pow-wows on the pitcher’s mound during tough situations. “A whole lot of nothing, usually,” Kershaw said. Once, playing in San Francisco–a town renowned for its great food–catcher A.J. Ellis came out in the middle of a jam and said to Kershaw, “Hey, tomorrow, wanna go eat lunch with me and get a bowl of red chili?” Clayton said, “What about this guy?” And Ellis replied, “Oh yeah. Let’s nail this down first!”

Earlier, at that reception where he’d shown up right on the dot, Kershaw was asked about the comparisons many have made between him and Sandy Koufax, the great Dodger hall of famer from the 1960s era, another left-handed power pitcher and strikeout artist.

“I think it’s a huge honor,” Kershaw answered. “I don’t take that lightly. But at the same time, there’s no expectations I have. He’s one of the best pitchers ever. So I’ve got a long way to go to even be compared to him, for sure.”

See what I mean about humble?