>>by J.C. Derrick Baptist Press writer


Clayton Kershaw helped the Dodgers return to National League championship series, the club’s first appearance since 2009. photo: Photo Works/Shutterstock.com

LOS ANGELES (BP)—The Los Angeles Dodgers have returned to the National League championship series (against the St. Louis Cardinals), their first appearance since 2009. Earlier this season, they joined the 1941 New York Yankees and the 1942 St. Louis Cardinals for the best 50-game stretch in major league baseball history: 42 wins and eight losses.

Clayton Kershaw—an ace among aces on the Dodgers’ pitching staff— led the league with a 1.83 ERA and 232 strikeouts during the regular season.

“Kersh is kind of what we’re all about,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters after a recent game. “He doesn’t take a hitter off. Every pitch has a purpose.”

Indeed it does—in more ways than one. This season, Kershaw, an outspoken Christian, has launched the #Pitching4Purpose campaign to raise funds for Kershaw’s Challenge, a charity he started with his wife, Ellen, in 2011.

Kershaw’s Challenge has formed partnerships with charities in Los Angeles and Dallas, but the bulk of its work is in Africa. Last December, it celebrated the opening of an orphanage in Zambia, which provides 10 children with the basic necessities and the Gospel.

Kershaw’s Challenge has raised more than $107,000 this season after pulling in more than $220,000 in 2012. Kershaw donates $500 for every batter he strikes out.

Clayton and Ellen Kershaw on their recent mission trip to Zambia. photo: kershawschallenge.com

Kershaw said that inspiring others to get involved is more important than the money he gives to the cause.

“It’s just cool to have giving with a purpose,” he said. “Whatever you’re doing, it’s for the greater good. That’s … the whole point.”

Last fall, Kershaw received the Roberto Clemente Award, Major League Baseball’s top humanitarian award. He was only 24 years old at the time—by far the youngest recipient ever. Kershaw called the award a “huge honor” that also helped recognize the work of his wife, who is involved with Kershaw’s Challenge full time.

“Ellen and I don’t do this stuff to get recognized for it, but I think it (was) a huge opportunity for (Kershaw’s Challenge) to get that national recognition and to reach more people,” Kershaw said. “I was so thrilled that Ellen got that, because she works so hard at it.”

Kershaw grew up in a Christian home,  but said he didn’t know what it meant to follow Jesus until he reached high school. In 2008, two years out of high school, Kershaw arrived on the big league stage, where he says living out one’s faith often takes on a different look than for the average person.

“It’s hard because we’re here at the field every day for 10 hours,” he said. “You’re not going to have a whole lot of personal interactions with the 40,000 people in the stands, but your character (on the field) can show what you believe in.”

Kershaw said he wants to be known as a Christian who happens to play baseball, not as a baseball player who happens to be a Christian.

“People forget about what you do on the baseball field,” he said. “As soon as baseball’s over, give it four or five years, and people forget about you. There are a lot more important things off the field. You can make a lasting impact in a lot of people’s lives.”