Clayton Kershaw Gives Back to Dallas with Mercy

Kershaw
**Special Guest Post**
Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Clayton Kershaw arrives in West Dallas in a nondescript Tahoe. Grinning, he strides around to the back and hoists a couple buckets of baseballs from the trunk. He exudes the same eager mood as any of the other volunteers towering above the scampering children. You would not guess that this man was Clayton Kershaw. You would not guess that this was arguably the best pitcher in Major League Baseball.
Mercy Street Director of Sports Lee Jackson, who is emceeing the event, invites Clayton to share a couple of words to kick off the camp, Kershaw’s own camp. Kershaw, a man so unshakable on the mound, is a bit flustered. If you have ever seen him stare holes into the dugout concrete between major league innings, you know that Clayton prefers to speak with curves, sliders, fastballs and the occasional home run. “Learn something, if you want to,” he tells the kids, but that is secondary to what he cites as the afternoon’s preeminent goal: have fun.

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Photo credit: John Stanley
This is Kershaw’s second annual baseball camp in West Dallas. The Highland Park graduate is coming home to Dallas after a career year where he finished with a 1.83 Earned Run Average and 7.9 Wins Above Replacement. Four days after this camp, Kershaw will be crowned the National League Cy Young winner for the second time in his six year career. H was part of a storied year for the Dodgers who recorded the club’s best stretch of baseball in over a century, going 53-13 over two and a half months. Yet for a man so vaunted, his charity work is all at ground level.Clayton and his wife, Ellen, have been involved in various charitable endeavors over the years, but have sharpened their focus to three areas: Zambia, where the Kershaws have contributed time and funds to the foundation of an orphanage, Los Angeles, and Dallas. They work with Sharefest in L.A. and, in Dallas, partnered with Mercy Street, a community organization that is transforming one of the neediest areas of the city. “Dallas is always going to be our home,” says Clayton, “We want to invest here not just financially, but with our time.”


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Photo credit: John Stanley
West Dallas is an area of the city cordoned off by the Trinity River and Interstate 30. The eastern edge is getting a commercial makeover, but the majority of the neighborhood remains mired in poverty. The per capita income is nearly one third the median for Dallas and, as early as seven years ago, the graduation rate at Pinkston High School was a troubling 39.5%.Mercy Street was founded in 2003 to act against the elements tearing apart West Dallas, primarily through the implementation of their mentoring program, where adult sponsors “walk with” a mentee from fourth to twelfth grade. At ten years, the organization is making headway. According to their 2012 annual report, over 92% of students mentored through Mercy Street completed high school in four years. Mercy Street hopes these boys and girls will grow to be the men and women who continue to lead West Dallas.

Part of Mercy Street’s mission of knitting the West Dallas community together includes sports. Mercy Street founder and Executive Director Trey Hill says he remembers, years ago, noticing the 20 acre vacant lot adjacent to Pinkston High School and thinking, “We need to make that fruitful and productive.” In 2010, Mercy Street secured a 99 year lease agreement with the Dallas Housing Authority, who owns the lot, and transformed the area into the “Field of Dreams” baseball complex.


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Photo credit: John Stanley
With its long-view mission to West Dallas and organized sports offerings, Clayton and Ellen Kershaw saw an ideal missional partner. “We knew that [Mercy Street] was starting to develop a baseball program,” says Ellen. “And if Clayton could come alongside them, then that’s exactly where he wanted to pour his time and money.”Kershaw’s West Dallas baseball camp is a four-hour afternoon session open to all neighborhood children between the ages of seven and 18. What Clayton hopes to impart to the kids of West Dallas is not pitching mechanics, batting stance or fielding prowess. More than anything, he wants them to have fun. That might sound quizzical coming from a pitcher that baseball writers have called “pathologically intense,” but Clayton eschews the separation. “I think [intensity] is part of having fun,” says Clayton.

For Clayton Kershaw, the heart of baseball is not found in immaculate statistics or historic win streaks. It is found in do-overs, sportsmanship, and the tactile pleasure of connecting bat with ball, regardless of where it goes. “If you have fun, the attitude will be there, the work ethic will be there,” says Clayton. “If these kids can have fun playing baseball today, then we did our job.”

The notoriously obsessive Kershaw certainly considers winning more enjoyable than losing, as evinced by his solemn post-game interview when the Dodgers fell to the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. But for Kershaw, that is a matter of contextualization. Professional baseball is about winning at the highest level, but for those outside of professional sports, there are deeper needs and hopes. That is how Kershaw, a big time pitcher in a big time market, finds perspective.


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Photo credit: John Stanley
During the afternoon camp, the fun is written all over Kershaw’s face. He rotates from station to station, sometimes tossing a few practice balls to swinging batters (politely, no curves and well-below 90 mph). He helps the West Dallas children field grounders and plays catch with a few others. Before and after the drills, he chats with Dallas Baptist University baseball players, who are on hand to coach the various skill stations.In the late afternoon, Kershaw is again invited to the microphone to give closing remarks to the seated throng of 119 attendees, almost 50 more than last year’s inaugural camp. Clayton’s camp-closing speech is almost as brief as his opening one. But here he speaks briefly and meaningfully from his deepest convictions. In accordance with his faith, Clayton Kershaw is a man beholden second to baseball and first to the triune God that gave him the talent to pitch. Hearing this sentiment from a professional athlete is nothing new, but hearing it from Kershaw, a man so destructive in games yet so meekly present on a West Dallas baseball field, you are inclined to actually believe it.

Dick Sullivan is a freelance writer living in Dallas, TX. He writes about local music and culture for D Magazine on their FrontRow blog and occasionally in print. He also covers the Dallas Mavericks for Mavs Outsider Report. He is on Twitter at @DickSully, or can be reached via e-mail atrichiesullivan@gmail.com.
Patrick Despain
Patrick is a member of the IBWAA and creator of Shutdown Inning. He was raised him Arlington, Texas and grew up watching games on HSE and listening to Eric Nadel and Mark Holtz on the radio. He is a long time Rangers fan and never achieved his dream of being a bat boy. He know lives in Georgia with dreams of a Texas return.

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