Column: Older, wiser Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw able to relish All-Star honor
Good thing he’s still hitting.
A simple question about whether he was ticked off about not being chosen for the All-Star team made Freddie Freeman come unglued on Sunday.
“Come on,” he replied. “That’s a terrible question.”
I thought it was a pretty good one, considering Freeman looked as if he was unleashing his fury on the baseballs pitched to him in an 11-9 comeback victory over the Chicago Cubs.
He made a statement with his four-hit performance, unlike Julio Urías, who gave up five first-inning runs on the day his All-Star exclusion was made official.
The next thing I knew, Freeman was barking across the clubhouse about how I was the worst reporter he’s dealt with in his 13 years in the major leagues. I guess he still hasn’t met Bill Plaschke.
And this is the guy the Dodgers will be counting on in October?
Dodgers pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin have been added to the National League All-Star team. The game is July 19 at Dodger Stadium.
Freeman hit with tears in his eyes in a recent visit to old home in Atlanta and hit again Sunday after he learned of his snub, so maybe none of this matters. But, man, if I were Andrew Friedman, I’d like my $162-million No. 3 hitter to be more emotionally stable.
On the bright side, the Dodgers know what they have from a mental standpoint in Clayton Kershaw.
The 34-year-old Kershaw missed the entire postseason last year with an arm injury and didn’t know what to expect when he re-signed with them in the spring.
He missed about a month during the first half but returned to perform well enough to where he almost certainly would be the team’s Game 1 starter if the playoffs started now, as he pitched seven or more innings in each of his last two games.
Tony Gonsolin might be pitching better, but Kershaw would be a more dependable choice because of his track record.
Kershaw was rewarded on Sunday when he was named to his ninth All-Star team.
The Dodgers posted to their official Twitter account a video of the moment Kershaw and Gonsolin learned of their selections from manager Dave Roberts, and Kershaw was unapologetically ecstatic.
“As the years go by you start to appreciate things a little bit more,” Kershaw said. “So every time I get to pitch at Dodger Stadium, every time we get a win, every time something significant happens, I try to take it in a little bit more now because you never know when it will be the last time. That’s no different with this All-Star Game.
“I’m super excited about it. It really will be cool to do one at home too. I think it’s just a special place for me personally and to get to do that in front of the home crowd will be really cool.”
Kershaw wasn’t always like this.
Back when he was winning Cy Young Awards, he viewed the world in five-day cycles that kept him from appreciating the scale of his achievements.
“One of the big joys that I’ve seen is Clayton’s growth as a person,” Roberts said. “He’s always been that focused uber-competitor, no emotion as far as that kind of emotion. I think he’s [now] kind of embracing all the things that he’s been able to accomplish because nothing is guaranteed going forward.”
This is part of the life cycle of star athletes, who develop new perspectives when they recognize they might be close to finished.
I can’t tell you how many former sour pusses softened as their retirements approached, the scowls they used to keep away visitors from their lockers transforming into welcoming smiles. Jeff Kent was a grouch until the bitter end but he was one of a kind.
The majority of long-tenured players make concerted efforts to enjoy what remains of their careers. They stop taking themselves as seriously.
Their powers diminished, they take pleasure in the simpler aspects of the game.
What makes Kershaw different is that he won’t have to play a minor role just to joke with teammates on the bench or be part of the occasional walk-off celebration at home plate.
Eleven years after pitching in his first All-Star Game, he will be able to enjoy the event through his new eyes.
Dodgers finish off a 10-1 homestand with an 11-9 victory over the Cubs and increase their division lead to eight games.
“I do think it is really special because I know how significant it is,” Kershaw said. “I’ve gotten to be a part of them before.
“I think no matter how many times you’ve made an All-Star team, it doesn’t take away the significance of it. You’re playing with a group of your peers that are considered the best in the world at what they do.
“To be considered as one of those is really special. That’s not lost on me. Maybe this time around, I do understand a little bit more, so maybe a little bit more excited.”
He pointed to how his son, Charley, is now 5 and can better enjoy, say, the home run derby.
Kershaw said starting the All-Star Game would be “a huge honor.”
“But,” he said, “I’m good with whatever.”
At the All-Star Game on July 19, the crowd at Dodger Stadium will cheer for Kershaw, regardless of when he pitches or how he performs. The fans will be cheering for the man as much as they are the player.
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