At just 26 years old, in his career to date, Clayton Kershaw has accumulated more awards than most. He added to that collection recently with his third Cy Young Award (given annually to the best pitcher in each league) and 4th consecutive ERA (earned run average) title.
Even with these accolades and the reputation he’s building as someone history will remember, it doesn’t come close to matching the impact that he’s had on the lives of others off of the baseball field.
Kershaw ascended the first step up to the platform he now enjoys with excitement he could hardly contain.
“I remember I was in Zebulon, North Carolina in Double-A and I got the call into the manager’s office like everybody else and they said, “Don’t call anybody, because the guy who’s getting released or sent down doesn’t know yet and we don’t want him to find out through somebody else.” So I said, “Okay, I won’t.” I immediately got on the phone and was like, “Alright, I’ve got to tell everybody,”” says Kershaw.
Ellen was not yet Clayton’s wife then, but as you can imagine, she was almost unbearably excited for Clayton to achieve what he had been working for his entire life.
“I was back at home,” says Ellen, ”and I was with all of Clayton’s and my high school friends. I was in one big room with all of them and the first thing that Clayton says is, “You can’t tell anyone.” So I’m dying—he tells me that he’s going to be playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in two days and I need to find a way out there and he was going to keep me posted on who I could tell.”
But you can’t keep the lid on a secret like that.
“I showed up in L.A. and there were 20 people there. My mom was there, some of my friends were there, Ellen’s family was there, It’s pretty cool that people cared that much to get out there that fast.”
With all that had gone into getting to that point in his life, Kershaw, though he is now a calm, stoic presence on the mound, will admit that he had butterflies in his stomach on the day of his debut.
“I’m not even going to go through how nervous I was. I couldn’t eat or breathe and Joe Torres, our manager. . . . it was just a pretty unforgettable day.”
On that first day in the big leagues, Kershaw showed the world that he was meant to be in the majors by going six innings and allowing just two runs. Then things really began to take off on the field and in his personal life.
Three years into his career, Clayton and Ellen together launched a program that would impact countless lives.
“The thing is, Clayton and I never intended to start a charity or a foundation at our age,” Ellen says. “I think it was always a dream, but for us, Kershaw’s Challenge began as a very basic need that needed to be met. The Lord kept knocking on this door and he kept putting a discomfort in my heart until I was ready to answer the call.”
Clayton saw his wife’s passion for it and he decided that he would support her in the same way that she had supported his career.
“She’s been so involved with my passion—baseball—and I knew that if we were ever to get married, that’s her passion. So literally three weeks after we get married, I’m on a plane to Zambia.”
After making the trip, the Kershaws knew that this would be a life decision that they would never regret.
Ellen said, “The first time you hold a Zambian orphan, your entire life is changed; it becomes so personal and so real. That overwhelming blanket of poverty is in this one child, and you realize that if you can only make a difference in this one person’s life, maybe that’s what the Lord has called you to for your entire existence.”
One orphan in particular, named Hope, stood out to both Clayton and Ellen.
“I guess I should start with Hope,” Clayton says. “She’s HIV-positive, double orphan. She was in bad shape, and Ellen took her immediately to the nurse and got her looked at. From that trip on, we started sponsoring Hope.”
They were proud to be sponsoring her, but they realized that there were bigger problems. They decided to take things a step further.
“Sponsorship can only take them so far,” Ellen relates, “but until these kids have a place to go home to at night . . . they need to feel the love of a family and the love of parents, and to feel like they’re a part of something. So for us it was just kind of an easy decision to make. Clayton decided he was going to ‘Strikeout To Serve;’ for every strikeout he wanted to donate money towards building Hope’s Home. It was the coolest season when he started that. People can call it coincidence, but we have no doubt in our minds that the Lord was up to something incredible; Clayton went to lead the National League in strikeouts that first season that he was ‘Striking Out To Serve.’”
Building upon the first successful “Strikeout To Serve” season, the Kershaws decided that they wanted to go even further in supporting the children in Zambia.
“The orphanage is complete, and just to even say that is surreal because a year ago when Clayton and I went over there, we talked to an architect and we went over blueprints. Our vision had become a little bit more tangible in the sense that we were standing on the land, but to go back and see 12 kids calling the place their home, calling each other brother and sister and having parents living there, it was absolutely incredible.”
On the surface it may not seem like they have a lot, Clayton has been deeply impressed by the joy of the Zambian people.
“These people, they have their basic needs met (food and shelter) but they are the happiest culture because they have Jesus.”
With all of the work that Clayton has been able to do on the field and that he and Ellen have done off of it, they are still not done trying to make the world a better place. As the recent Cy Young winner will tell you, there are an endless amount of things for which to be thankful .
“People get the wrong idea about Christianity sometimes. A lot of people have preconceived notions about what that means and what that looks like and how your life is supposed to be shaped. I think, more than anything, if I were to just come up to somebody that had no idea about the faith I’d say, ‘It’s simple. Jesus saved us and Jesus is the only answer. This man-God, took us and He saved us.’ And that’s it. He’s our Savior, everything is for Him, everything good in this world comes from Him and you can believe that or don’t, but that’s it.” —Brian Rzeppa