Clayton Kershaw pushed the weighted sled 70 feet through the well-tended grass of his home’s side yard, his legs churning as he passed the plastic kiddie slide. He then stepped toward the open gate to survey the playground across the street.
“What time is it?” he asked.
It was 9:43.
“I bet Cali is out there,” he said.
He looked and looked until he realized his 6-year-old daughter wasn’t there.
Cali is the oldest of Kershaw’s three children. She’s in kindergarten, and Kershaw knows her schedule inside and out. He walks her to school. He picks her up. He’s a member of the school’s dads club and volunteers twice a month for three-hour cafeteria shifts. And he knows Cali is at recess at 9:43 a.m.
“Sometimes she doesn’t go to that playground, though,” he said, turning back to the sled with 45-pound weights mounted on each side.
It’s the most exhausting segment of his two-hour lower-body workout. Once the one-minute rest interval expired, he shoved the sled a third time, up a slight incline. He was panting when he reached the other side. Seven more to go.
Kershaw was enduring the workout because he was weeks from reporting to spring training for his 14th — and perhaps final — season with the Dodgers. He’ll turn 33 next month. He’s one of the old guys in the clubhouse, and time doesn’t treat the best any better.
So he has worked out six days a week to complement his offseason throwing regimen. Monday and Thursday are lower body, Tuesday and Friday upper body. Wednesday and Saturday are cardio.
He sees a physical therapist twice a week and throws with a small group of professional pitchers at Highland Park High, where he starred down the road. Other than that, he does it all alone, inside the gym he and his wife, Ellen, added to their home a handful of years ago, when he’s not outside pushing the sled or throwing baseballs into the net in the driveway.
“I’ll tell you what: I would not be doing this if I didn’t play baseball,” Kershaw said. “I think about retirement workouts all the time. Straight upper body. Some crunches. Maybe mix in an elliptical every once in a while. In and out in 45 minutes, [then] straight to the golf course.”
The post-career workouts are appealing, but what Kershaw looks forward to the most in retirement is being a full-time dad.
Kershaw’s father was out of the picture for most of his life after his parents divorced when he was 10. Now as Kershaw raises his children, Ellen makes sure Cali, Charley and Cooper are with their dad as much as possible during the baseball season. But it’s getting more difficult as the kids get older.
For now, he pushes.
The offseason workout routine hasn’t varied much over the years, but now there is a different feel. This winter, he didn’t shoulder the weight of another failure, didn’t agonize about a back-breaking October home run, didn’t wonder whether he’ll ever reach baseball’s summit.
Three months earlier, the Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Field in nearby Arlington to win the World Series. Kershaw relished the moment with his family, his kids in his arms when they weren’t running around in the postgame celebration. Joy splashed his face.
The celebration became somewhat muted when Justin Turner tested positive for COVID-19 that night and joined the rest of the Dodgers on the field for photos after the game. Turner’s reappearance became a national controversy. Ten days later, Turner apologized and Major League Baseball announced it wouldn’t discipline him.
“That was a very hard situation all the way through, and I don’t think everybody fully grasped exactly what was going on,” Kershaw said. “Everybody was trying to do the right thing protocol-wise, and everybody kind of took partial responsibility at the end of it, which was the right thing to do and we can move on from there.”
After the on-field celebration, Kershaw threw back some beers with teammates at the hotel. The pandemic meant they didn’t have a chance to revel in Los Angeles. There would be no parade. The next morning, he drove his family home for the offseason. It wasn’t how he had envisioned winning a championship, but it didn’t matter. And along with the joy came relief.
“I probably would never have admitted all of this two years ago or whenever before when we lost,” Kershaw said. “But now that we won, there’s some truth to it. There’s some truth to that burden.”
Kershaw spoke at his dining room table. He drank from a Starbucks cup — blonde roast with light coconut milk for “Tony.” He orders coffee every morning for himself, his next-door neighbor and sister-in-law, who lives two doors down. The orders are always for “Tony.” The inside joke is he goes by Tony Crenshaw. Tony because he adds a y to Clayton. Crenshaw because too many people in L.A. have assumed he and a boulevard share the same name.
Ellen sat next to him, sipping coffee from a big mug with the letter K on it.
“It’s just been amazing,” she said. “I feel like there has been — definitely, like you can tell, that a burden has been lifted. Clayton, I believe, is the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t take a day off. But I do feel like there’s a lightness.”
The difference is evident in this scene last month: Kershaw opening his home to a reporter to answer questions.
Kershaw has been careful with what he has revealed to the media over his career. Just a year ago, he was peeved when a reporter wrote that he had visited Driveline Baseball — a data-driven player development program — in Seattle for an assessment. He sought help after producing his worst season since he broke into the majors in 2008 — he posted a 3.03 ERA in 178 1/3 innings and made the All-Star team — and he didn’t want it public.
Last month, he casually revealed that he didn’t travel to Driveline this winter but has stayed in contact with the program’s trainers for workout guidance.
“You get older, you decline, right?” Kershaw said. “But I felt like mine was just too quick, and so I knew there was something there I wasn’t doing. I think I kind of have figured that out a little bit.”
Remnants of the October triumph are sprinkled around the Kershaw household. By the kitchen, there’s an unopened bottle of champagne signed by friends with congratulatory messages. In his office, the room outside his gym that houses some memorabilia, the tattered black glove he used for his first 13 major league seasons sits in a display case, retired now that he finally secured a championship.
Winning the World Series did present one challenge: unearthing the motivation to push himself this offseason.
“I wasn’t as enthused to get back going again, which is good thing,” Kershaw said. “It’s a great problem to have. I think every offseason in the past it’s been, ‘I just want to get this done. I just want to do it, do it, do it.’ And there’s this passion and it just constantly builds and builds and builds.
“And now the pressure is just because we have a great team and we’re supposed to win. That’s awesome.”
The 6-foot-4 left-hander’s target weight at the beginning of his career was 220 pounds. Now inching into his mid-30s, it’s anything under 230.
The gym has everything he needs to reach the goal, including a cable machine, an anti-gravity treadmill, an elliptical, medicine balls and a full set of dumbbells. A shower too.
He started his lower-body workout on a recent sunny Thursday at 8:50 a.m. with a stretch routine before hitting the squat rack. One of the two televisions was set to a (muted) ESPN debate show. The other was on Apple Music, feeding the Dance XL playlist into the room’s speaker system.
A mini fridge cooled water bottles and cans of Kershaw’s Wicked Curve, the grapefruit-tinged wheat ale whose sales benefit Kershaw’s Challenge, the charity Clayton and Ellen established in 2011. A scoreboard overlooked the room. Two sets of golf clubs — his and a miniature set for 4-year-old Charley — stood underneath.
“The goal is to peak when he does,” he joked.
A pop-a-shot arcade basketball game was stationed on the far wall. Kershaw is undefeated with a high score of 147. The closest anyone else has gotten is 125. Kershaw credits his hand-eye coordination for the dominance. He shows it off every year playing ping pong at spring training in the Dodgers’ clubhouse at Camelback Ranch. But his match arrived last year.
“Mookie might be better than me,” he admitted, a nod to his teammate Mookie Betts.
A framed Roy Halladay Toronto Blue Jays jersey — he admired the late Hall of Fame pitcher — adorns one corner. On the opposite side hangs the framed jersey of former Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus, who wrote a message with five reasons he enjoyed playing with Kershaw in the final two seasons of his career in 2009 and 2010. He was 41 years old. Kershaw was 22.
"One of my favorite teammates of all-time! I’ll always be pulling for you!
Your friend, Brad Ausmus"
Ausmus retired before Kershaw made his eight All-Star teams or won his three Cy Young Awards or claimed his National League MVP award.
A decade later, Kershaw’s future is unclear because his contract is set to expire in November.
Kershaw opted out of his previous contract with two years remaining after the 2018 season and quickly signed a three-year, $93 million deal to stay in Los Angeles at least through 2021. He and Ellen had two children then, both too young for school. That will be different after this season.
“We talk about that, not really, huh,” Kershaw said, looking over at Ellen. “A little bit.”
“A little bit,” Ellen responded. “Just with our kids being, especially school-age, it’s not as easy to pull them out of school and get us to L.A. during the season. And we are so committed as a family just to sticking together and being where you are, so there is just a little bit more discussion from a kid’s perspective of making sure that we’re making the right decisions for them, for us as a family. And so I think kindergarten, this is an easy year for us to pull [Cali] out and go to spring training and do the season and stuff. And we’ll just continue to make that a discussion.”
“And I’ll just say we love L.A.,” Kershaw said. “It’s been our home for, God, we’ve been doing it for 13 years. I’ve been doing it for 13 years.”
The Kershaw family spends the offseason in Dallas but owns a home in Los Angeles. They live there during the season.
“And it’s all our kids know at this point,” Ellen said.
“They have a blast,” Kershaw said. “They love it out there. They have their friends out there and family room and they don’t know any different. So it’s pretty awesome.”
“And we travel so much with him,” Ellen said. “In a pre-COVID world, we’re going on the road with him at least twice a month, traveling and stuff. And I love that experience for our kids. It would be something I would never want to give up and they wouldn’t either.”
This will be the first time Kershaw enters a season with free agency looming. He said he hasn’t discussed a contract extension with the Dodgers. Does he want one?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Honestly, I wish I had an answer.”
Kershaw was effusive in his praise of the Dodgers. He lauded Andrew Friedman’s work as president of baseball operations, though he admitted he wasn’t convinced of the front office’s philosophies until the last two years. The Dodgers have won six National League West titles and advanced to three World Series in Friedman’s six seasons.
“It’s not that I didn’t think he was great at what he did,” Kershaw said. “I just didn’t really pay much attention. I was just like, ‘I’ll just show up. We’re going to be good and make the playoffs.’ Then you start seeing other teams around you like having to go through like these waves and [it’s] just impressive what he does.”
Friedman confirmed the organization and Kershaw haven’t discussed a contract extension. He said he understands Kershaw’s desire to do what’s best for his family. “Obviously, it’s personal for him and Ellen,” he said, “but I feel like all is right in the world if he finishes his career, whenever that is, in however many years, as a Dodger.”
Last week, conceivably as insurance for Kershaw’s possible departure, Friedman signed Trevor Bauer, the top free-agent pitcher this offseason, to a three-year, $102 million contract.
But his arrival doesn’t guarantee Kershaw’s time in Los Angeles will end in the fall. The Dodgers will have at least nearly $80 million coming off the books after the season, giving them ample money to re-sign Kershaw.
Kershaw said he just wants to honor the three-year commitment he made with the team. He doesn’t know whether he’ll pitch beyond this season, with the Dodgers or another club. The other obvious option is joining the Texas Rangers. He would play home games at Globe Life Field, a 30-minute drive from the house. Dallas would be home for good.
He’s thought about retirement and talked to Jamey Wright about it. Wright pitched for 10 teams in 19 seasons. He was Kershaw’s teammate in 2014, sat out the 2015 season and retired after not making the Dodgers’ opening day roster in 2016.
Kershaw threw with Wright, who lives nearby, every offseason. Now Wright is the Dodgers’ triple-A pitching coach.
“Every ride is different,” Kershaw said. “It’s crazy.”
He wonders whether he’ll know when the time is right, whether he can avoid hanging on for too long. He recognizes it’s a complication all athletes, even future first-ballot Hall of Famers, eventually encounter.
“I’ll just say, I don’t know,” Kershaw said. “I have no idea. I do know that I still love it and I have a blast.”
Balloons lined the walkway to the Kershaws’ front door. Cooper’s first birthday was the day before.
“So the balloons weren’t for you,” he said. “Sorry.”
Inside, Charley was up and about while Cooper napped and Cali attended school. Cali’s sixth birthday was in 10 days. Her first basketball game was scheduled for the next Saturday. Kershaw is one of the team’s coaches.
“She’s like a real kid now,” Kershaw said. “It’s crazy, but it’s fun. It is fun. It’s just crazy that she spends so much time at school now. I think that’s been a big adjustment for us.”
Cooper, Ellen said, is probably left-handed like his dad, but Charley is the clone. Ellen met Kershaw when they were teenagers. She’s convinced she’s watching Clayton’s early years through Charley.
“I’m like, ‘I’m sure that that’s what you were like,’ ” Ellen said.
Kershaw’s love for children predated his own. Kershaw’s Challenge remains a focal point in their lives. The charity, which has an office space near the family’s home, helps children in Dallas, Los Angeles, Africa and the Dominican Republic.
In December, Kershaw penned an editorial for CNN, joining the International Justice Mission and other organizations in calling for the end of child marriage in the Dominican Republic. The country’s president signed a law banning the practice in January.
Closer to home, Kershaw helped the Players’ Alliance, a group of current and former Black professional baseball players created to increase opportunities for the Black community, distribute 350 carloads of food, COVID-19 supplies and baseball equipment.
“I just want everyone to have the same equal opportunity to have a good life,” Kershaw said. “Sometimes that’s not an easy thing to understand. It’s something I didn’t understand. It matters where you come from, unfortunately. I don’t think that’s the way it should be, and, to me, that’s not a political issue. Let’s just make things better for people and make things better for kids.”
He views the upcoming years as his chance to make a substantial impact on the lives of his own kids. He believes it’s his responsibility to make sure Charley and Cooper become good men. He wants to be Cali’s protector. The challenge excites him.
“This is like your chance to get to hang out with your kids and be with them,” Kershaw said. “And so I don’t want to miss that opportunity.”
The reality is his job makes fatherhood more difficult and it’ll grow more complicated as time ticks away. Charley will start kindergarten soon. Cooper isn’t far behind.
“I love being with the Dodgers,” he said. “Love it. So thankful that I’ve gotten to be there, and I would never want that to change. I’ve always loved being there. Playing with one team your whole career is very cool, I think, but legacy’s not important to me on the baseball field. I don’t worry about that.”
What he does want, he said, is “my teammates’ respect and I just want to pitch well as long as I can. So all that other stuff will take care of itself.”
For now, he pushes.
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