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Dodger Clayton Kershaw and wife Ellen help African orphans; new book "Arise" tells their story

Clayton and Ellen Kershaw in Zambia.
Clayton and Ellen Kershaw in Zambia.
Courtesy Clayton & Ellen Kershaw

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UPDATE 10/9/2013: This seems a pretty good time to bring back a story from 2012 that reminds us that not only is Clayton Kershaw a preternatural pitcher, but he seems to be a hell of a guy with his priorities straight. -- John Rabe

This guy is only 23?

At a news conference at Dodger Stadium this morning, somebody asked why Clayton Kershaw has made repeated trips to Africa with his wife Ellen, to help orphans there.

The Cy Young Award winner replied, in full earnest, ‘Ellen always asked me, “What do you want your legacy to be when you’re done playing baseball?”’ There are always going to be people better than you, he said, who will break your records, “So you want to be remembered for doing something other than baseball.”

The two work through the Dallas-based non-profit Arise Africa, and are building housing for orphans. The details are in their new book “Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself.”

Ellen Kershaw , 24, has been going to Zambia since she was 18. She felt drawn to, she says, in the 8th grade, after seeing a tv show. But she didn’t think she could do any good. “There’s plenty of people who spend their entire lives trying to change that country, and what could I do as an 18-year old?! But finally, it almost caused me more anxiety not going than actually getting on a plane and going over there.”

It took her husband a little longer. But he’s made two trips with her now, the first right after their marriage -- they were high school sweethearts – and it’s changed him for the good. “Going to Zambia last year I think was a huge leap of faith for him, and it stretched him in more ways than I’ve ever seen.”

Speaking of stretching, Ellen says the kids hang off the 6-3 pitcher “like he’s a jungle gym.” They know nothing about baseball, the Dodgers, or the Cy Young. “If I played soccer,” he joked, “that would be a different story.”

It might seem counter-intuitive, in a sport like baseball where concentration and total devotion are key, but Clayon and Ellen both say their Africa project, and Kershaw’s challenge, in which he donated $100 for every batter he struck out, made him a better pitcher, because the goal was bigger than baseball.

The two speak easily about serving their God, but they don’t present as evangelical. He was raised Methodist, she Presbyterian. Not the rivival tent types. This seems to be more about what they say it is: giving back, doing what they can. As Ellen says, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

If we want a power couple running the Dodgers, somebody ought to give the Dodgers to these two.

Watch the Kershaws talk about Africa in this YouTube video: