Clayton Kershaw has been the ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching staff for the past 10 seasons. A native of Dallas, Texas, and a sure Hall-of-Fame candidate. Hear his conversation with Scott Rae and Brandon Cash at this year's Spring Training.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast, "Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture." I'm your host, Scott Rae, dean of faculty and professor of Christian ethics at Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University. We're here at spring training in Arizona today with a very special guest, the ace of the Dodgers pitching staff for the last decade or so, left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
Scott Rae: Clayton, thank you so much for joining us for this and letting us ask you a few questions about your faith.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Scott Rae: Yeah. I'm also joined by my faculty colleague and Dodgers chaplain, Brandon Cash. Brandon, thanks for co-hosting with me today.
Brandon Cash: Good to be here.
Scott Rae: Clayton, tell us a little bit about your spiritual journey, how you came to faith in Christ, and sort of where you are today.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah. My testimony is, I guess, not too special or anything like that. But I grew up in Dallas, Texas. It's kind of the Bible belt of the country. There's a church on every corner. Very fortunate to have a home that I got to grow up in the church, and got to go every Sunday, and did that growing up all the way through.
Clayton Kershaw: But it wasn't until my sophomore/junior year in high school, where I started thinking that Jesus probably needed to have a decision, you know? It was either you're all in on Jesus and you're really understanding what that means in your life, or you probably don't need to be going to church. There's no lukewarm Christian, as I've heard before.
Clayton Kershaw: For me, I really started praying about that at that point, and that's kind of when I say that my walk kind of started with Christ. Ever since then, it's been, obviously, the foundation for me.
Scott Rae: Who are some of the people along the way who have impacted you spiritually, and sort of helped propel you to where you are today?
Clayton Kershaw: Well, I guess of the community I grew up in was so special. It's Highland Park in Dallas. There's so many different amazing Christian leaders in that community, but I've had the same group of friends I've had since high school. I met my wife in high school and her family. I learned a lot from her, and I learned a lot from her parents, just watching them and how they interacted, and just what it meant to be godly parents, a godly mother, father, husband, wife. I learned from them and their siblings what a family looks like.
Clayton Kershaw: Then my friends, I'm very fortunate to have great Christian friends back home in Dallas that keep me grounded. They don't care about the baseball part of it, and they just want me to be the guy from back home and that's been so great. So, I go back home every off season and see them. I just share my faith and my journey to everybody growing up back home. Baseball's so cyclical, you know? It's just one cycle of your life, and then it goes away. It's just so nice to have that foundation of people back home.
Scott Rae: Tell us a little bit about your family. I mean obviously you've known your wife for a really long time.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah, I have. Yeah, yeah.
Scott Rae: That's nice. And tell us a little bit about her and about your kids.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah, my wife, Ellen, we've been married eight years now, and we got married back home. We have two kids, Cali and Charley. Cali's four, Charley's two.
Clayton Kershaw: We met in high school, obviously. Then she went to Texas A&M and really got involved with going to Africa. That was kind of her mission. That's what she felt like God had put on her heart was to go to Africa and kind of help those kids over there. We got married in 2010, and literally three weeks later, I'm going over to Africa with her.
Scott Rae: Wow.
Clayton Kershaw: That was kind of the genesis of Kershaw's Challenge.
Scott Rae: Was that your honeymoon?
Clayton Kershaw: Basically, yeah. I mean, we were three weeks after, right there, so she really wanted me to know what ... that was on her heart, her passion. She wanted me to understand that. It's different. I mean, it really does change you when you go over there and you see it. I'm so thankful that she did that. Now I've been four or five times, and she's been nine or 10, so that's it.
Clayton Kershaw: My mom still lives in Dallas. She's still there now. My parents got divorced when I was probably 10 or so, and I've been with my mom since high school.
Scott Rae: The rhythm of the baseball season, you're away a lot from your family.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah.
Scott Rae: How has the rhythm of the season impacted your family life, and what have you been intentional about trying to do to minimize that impact?
Clayton Kershaw: Well, I give all the credit in the world to Ellen. I mean, she makes it a priority to get our kids wherever I am. She says home is where we are together. We're fortunate now because Cali's four, and she's not quite at that age where she needs to be in school every second of the day or at least we think so. So, we bring her around and they're out here all the time in spring training, and then they come to L.A. with me.
Clayton Kershaw: So, really the only times is on the road, going on the road. They come to some West coast cities when they can, but traveling with two kids isn't super easy for mom. I mean, she's super mom, but that's still not easy. She does a great job of keeping us together. It's just so important for me, you know? I think you just get sad when you don't see your kids for a while, and I just miss them. And to have them around, it really helps take the stress and anxiety of the baseball season out, because when you go home, you have to be dad. You can't keep thinking about the baseball stuff, so that's pretty great.
Scott Rae: Now you mentioned Africa, that your wife, Ellen, got you involved in. I'm aware from Brandon that you've got a number of off-the-field things that you're involved in like that, that your faith has been quite an important part in.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah.
Scott Rae: Tell us a little bit about some of those.
Clayton Kershaw: We started going to Africa, and then Ellen met a little girl over there named Hope. She's a double orphan, HIV-positive, that Ellen met at this Christian camp that she was helping out at. She was just like, "Clayton, we have to do more for this girl." She called me, which wasn't a cheap phone call by any means, calling me from Africa. She just said, "Clayton, we have to do more. This girl's going right back where she came from. She's getting three weeks of a break from her normal life, but she's going right back to where she came from. She's on the street. She has no food." And I said, "Okay, so what do we do?"
Clayton Kershaw: And that was the birthplace of Kershaw's Challenge, and that's the name of our charity. Hope is now one of ... I think we have 16 kids now in two different homes over there that we helped start, and there's a boys' home and a girls' home. Hope was nine at the time, and now she's ... We don't know exactly, but we think she's around 15 or 16. She's thriving. She's doing great.
Clayton Kershaw: Her heart has completely changed. She didn't trust anybody, super calloused, and now she's like the big sister to all the girls there at the house. It's just incredible, it really is. It's just amazing to see what God has done through Hope and through Kershaw's Challenge, because we had no intention of starting a charity or non-profit or anything like that. To help one girl to where Kershaw's Challenge is now, we have different beneficiaries really all over the world.
Clayton Kershaw: We have Africa, and Dominican Republic, and locally in Los Angeles, and then Dallas. We kind of pick different beneficiaries every year. Sometimes we have multiple projects or multiple years, but raising money for some kids in some tough situations, and just some awesome opportunities to help some kids.
Scott Rae: All of that's aimed at helping disadvantaged kids.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah. That's kind of our heartbeat at Kershaw's Challenge is to help kiddos. That's kind of where Ellen and I believe that's where our mission is, is just helping the helpless, these kiddos that are born into tough situations or just are having a rough go of it. That's kind of our mission.
Scott Rae: That's wonderful.
Brandon Cash: Are all of your partners Christ-centered?
Clayton Kershaw: It depends. It depends on the year. Obviously, it would be ideal, but ultimately, we just want great opportunities to help kids, so every year we have different grant applications for different beneficiaries. We're going to roll out our new beneficiaries for 2019 around opening day as well. I would say the majority are, but we have had-
Brandon Cash: It seems like it's been-
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah, we've had opportunities to have just different great organizations for sure.
Brandon Cash: How has your faith made a difference for you as a player?
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah. Well, it's just the foundation of everything, so I think success, failure, being injured, being healthy, different things, it can kind of be a roller coaster if you don't have that foundation. I think having Christ at the center, and then realizing that baseball is just a game, and then realizing that you didn't do anything to deserve the ability to throw a baseball. It was just a complete gift. Nothing I did to deserve that. It was just from God.
Clayton Kershaw: Now, you can work at it and do everything you can with that gift to try and glorify Him, and that's kind of my mission is that baseball's a great platform to help a lot of people. Thankfully, a lot of people like baseball. There's a lot of Dodger fans out there, and with that, there's such a great platform to get the word out about what we're doing, but honestly, just what God's doing. It's a really cool opportunity.
Clayton Kershaw: Like I said, baseball's going to be done. I'm going to be a former baseball player a lot longer than I am a baseball player, so while I do have this platform and while I do have this notoriety, I guess you could say, you're trying to point that in the right direction, realizing that baseball is just a vessel.
Scott Rae: What are some of the biggest challenges to your faith that come from being a player?
Clayton Kershaw: Well, I think it's that, I think getting caught up in the game, which, you know, I love baseball. I love the game. I love being able to pitch. I love competing. I'll miss it. I miss it when I'm not able to play or miss it when I'm hurt or something like that.
Clayton Kershaw: Just trying to find that balance of caring about what you're doing and loving it, but not having it be the main thing. Sometimes, your personality, your mood can be dependent on how you're doing in the game, and that's not fair to the people around you. It's not fair to your kids, your wife, and it matters to me, you know? I want to succeed. I want to do well for a number of reasons, but the main reason needs to be because that's where God put you, and you want to do your best for Him.
Clayton Kershaw: Sometimes, you can get caught up and want to be successful for your own self, or your team, or whatever it may be, which is all fine and good, but it can't be the main thing.
Scott Rae: Something tells me your wife is pretty good at keeping you grounded in that way too.
Clayton Kershaw: She is great. She's great.
Brandon Cash: This morning at chapel, you came and challenged the guys a little bit with the Word for kind of the season and that.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah. I wanted to do that this year in chapel. You know, Brandon leads our chapel, obviously, and it's great, and I wanted some more interaction with the guys. Just something that was on my heart this off season. You know, you talk about being a Christian witness in the locker room, and talking to different guys. I feel like it's almost a cop-out at times, like, "Well, I lead by example." And other guys will kind of figure it out. Which is true, you don't ever want to just talk at somebody.
Clayton Kershaw: But I think having that interaction and talking about these just with different guys who are all on all ends of the spectrums of believing is important. So today, I did that in chapel. We've had different guys kind of give almost mini testimonies, I would say. This past chapel today, a little bit earlier I talked about trials and just there's some things going on personally with me, with family, with health, with whatever it may be. You kind of have a tendency to maybe question God, or ask why, "Why is this happening to me?" or different things like that.
Clayton Kershaw: Just realizing that that's probably not the right mindset, you know? It's that God ... We might not see His plan in the present time, but over time, over future, we might not see what He's doing, but maybe by me going through this, somebody else will come to Christ because of what I'm going through and how I handle it. So that's what I have to remember, and it was good.
Clayton Kershaw: We talked about ... You'll probably remember the verse better than I do. It's James-
Brandon Cash: Yeah, and then verse five [crosstalk 00:12:12]
Clayton Kershaw: ... "Count as joy, my brother," and yeah, Romans 5, where it talks about ... What was it? Suffering leads to-
Brandon Cash: For endurance, and endurance leads to-
Clayton Kershaw: ... endurance and endurance leads to character. Yeah. It was good.
Scott Rae: Well, that's great stuff. Just a couple other questions if we could, just on the baseball side.
Clayton Kershaw: Okay.
Scott Rae: You've had a pretty decorated career so far, numbers that put you in pretty select company in the history of the game. I suspect you have a lot of things that are on your list of accomplishments, things that you've sort of put on your list as highs of your career. What's the top couple things that you would say are highlights of your career so far?
Clayton Kershaw: Well, I think it's ... I've been very fortunate the last 10 years to get to pitch and get to be in L.A. and get to do some awesome things on the field, but ultimately, that individual stuff is just not that important to me. It's great, and maybe some day I'll understand that it had a lot of significance or impact, but right now, in the middle of my career, it just doesn't seem that important.
Clayton Kershaw: Getting to go to the playoffs, getting to be parts of World Series, and obviously, we failed and we haven't won the ultimate prize yet, but just big team stuff is cool, because you're with those guys every day for eight straight months, probably 10, 11 hours a day. So, when you accomplish something as a team, that's the stuff that I'll remember, and just the camaraderie of the clubhouse and the culture that we've created.
Brandon Cash: Now, I've heard you say this before, and you kind of touched on it, the celebrations. I think it was one of the former teammates that kind of told you the importance of that?
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah, they just ... I've had multiple guys that's, like, "This doesn't happen very often. You just got to soak this in." And when you're popping champagne, everybody's wearing those ski goggles, you know. A veteran player once told me, he was like, "You can't wear those goggles. You have to embrace the burn. You have to embrace it, because you just never know when it's going to happen again." So, you won't ever see me wearing those goggles.
Scott Rae: One final question. We've got lots of listeners here. Lots of them are Dodger fans. I'm sure lots of them are Kershaw fans.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah.
Scott Rae: How can they pray for you, especially during the season as you're getting ready to get started?
Clayton Kershaw: You know, we talked about that today. There is a word in one of the verses called steadfastness, and I looked that up and it's unrelenting, unwavering. I think that's a great prayer for me, especially in a long baseball season. It's just to be steadfast in your faith, to remember where you stand, what Christ means to you, what he's done in your life, and why you believe what you believe.
Clayton Kershaw: Then on the baseball side of it, just to remember that every day, you can impact somebody, and every day, regardless of if you're pitching or not, or if you're having success or not, or not pitching or whatever may be, there's a lot of different people that are looking at you. So I would just pray to help me remember that.
Scott Rae: Yeah. I so appreciate your answer to that, and especially the question before, because it speaks, I think, to character and humility and this is not all about me.
Clayton Kershaw: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah.
Scott Rae: It's all about somebody much bigger than me.
Clayton Kershaw: That's right.
Scott Rae: So, Clayton, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to talk to us and to just share about your faith and how important that is to you. All the best to you this season, and for the Dodgers' success this season. All the best to you, and thanks so much for coming on.
Clayton Kershaw: Appreciate that, yeah. Thanks for having me.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To learn more about us and today's guest, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and to find more episodes, go to Biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's Biola.edu/thinkbiblically.
Scott Rae: If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening, and remember, think biblically about everything.