Ellen Kershaw, family life keep Dodgers’ ace grounded during trials of season
The phone couldn’t update her fast enough.
Ellen Kershaw, wife of pitching ace Clayton Kershaw — a.k.a. the most important person to the Dodgers’ most important person — was aboard a Los Angeles-bound flight from Florida in July when her husband made his second post-All-Star-game start.
She was checking the game’s progress when she saw that Clayton had been pulled after the second inning.
“To not know what was going on and not be able to get a hold of him to know if he was sick or hurt or whatever was going on, there were definitely butterflies in my stomach,” she recalled a few weeks later.
Clayton had been removed because of what was later diagnosed as a lower-back strain. He was placed on the disabled list the next day and hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since; he is scheduled to make his return start Friday against the Padres in San Diego.
Before they had children, the injury might have devastated both Kershaws. Not anymore.
Not Ellen. Not even Clayton.
The couple has a 2-year-old daughter, Cali, and a 9-month-old son, Charley.
In an interview during spring training, Ellen said parenthood had “evened out” the couple.
“We can’t have the highs and lows,” she said.
That was evident after Clayton went on the disabled list.
Two days later, Cali threw out the first pitch — to her father — before a game at Dodger Stadium. The next night, Clayton and Ellen hosted a stadium event for their charity, Kershaw’s Challenge.
“Ellen always had a bigger goal with baseball,” said Clayton, who signed a seven-year, $215-million contract in 2014.
The couple’s priorities continue to evolve.
Four months a year, Clayton, 29, is a stay-at-home dad. “My time to catch up with the kiddos,” he said.
Ellen, for 12 months a year, is the glue that holds the family together.
“There’s so many different hats as a baseball wife,” said Ellen, 30, who described her role as the family’s traveling secretary, real estate agent and accountant. “I feel like I had kind of gotten into the groove of that, and then you start adding kids to it and it’s a whole other ballgame.”
The Kershaws move three times a year: from hometown Dallas to Phoenix for spring training and then Los Angeles for the regular season.
Home is a loose term; it’s wherever Dad is at the time. Ellen takes pride that Cali learned to travel when she was just a few weeks old, and that the two of them navigated two Dodgers road trips a month in 2016. This season, Charley is learning the road life.
“That’s something I really want to instill in our kids, is family comes first,” Ellen said. “So while they’re not in school we are going to travel with Dad, and you are all going to learn how to be on plane flights and in different stadiums and in different time zones.”
Before Cali’s birth, Ellen said Clayton woke up focused, quiet and pensive on the days he pitched.
“Man, that had to change,” she said. “He has to wake up and be Dad. The kids don’t care if it’s game day or not, so they expect him to be all there and he’s really been great.”
Clayton will play dress up and tea party, and knows the names of all the Disney princesses. He can sing along to the “Frozen” soundtrack, too, Ellen said.
That stoic game-day routine? “Not so intense,” Clayton said, smiling, “for sure.”
Ellen and Clayton began dating at Highland Park High in Dallas. Ellen went on to attend Texas A&M while Clayton, the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft, began ascending through the Dodgers’ farm system.
Clayton made his big league debut in 2008, and the couple married in 2010. Not long after, Clayton joined Ellen on a trip to Zambia, in East Africa, where she had previously traveled to work with orphans.
“It was always on her heart,” Clayton said, adding, “It wasn’t on my radar and I knew when I married her that it was going to involve me, so we went over there the first time three weeks after we got married. And it does. It changes you.”
Charity work, Ellen said, is the foundation of their marriage. “I would say even though it began with my passion, Clayton was the ringleader of putting something into action,” she said.
The couple founded Kershaw’s Challenge six years ago to improve the quality of life and provide opportunities to vulnerable, underprivileged children. It has since expanded to the Dominican Republic, Dallas and Los Angeles. The Kershaws donate money, and donors make pledges, for every batter Clayton strikes out. They also hold fundraisers in Los Angeles and Texas.
The charity gave away $1.3 million in 2016, according to the Kershaw’s Challenge website.
The U.S and Dominican locations have made it easier for the Kershaws to maintain their hands-on involvement, but it hasn’t fulfilled everything that Ellen hopes for.
“We are people that want to see the process, to know the people, to touch the kids, to hear their stories,” Ellen said. “We do believe that everything we’ve been given is so undeserved and is a blessing. … That is why we stay grounded.”
While the Kershaws make time for their family and charity, they also are gearing up for a Dodgers playoff run.
During last season’s National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals, Ellen was at home because she was nine months pregnant.
She watched on television as her husband dramatically emerged from the bullpen on one day of rest in Game 5, saving the Dodgers’ season.
“I was like, ‘You can’t do that to me anymore!’” Ellen said she told Clayton afterward. “‘It is just too nerve-racking.’”
This season, the Dodgers appear poised to make an even deeper run into the postseason. Ellen said the entire Kershaw clan is ready.
“We’re traveling a ton with the team, and especially now that it’s about to get to the exciting time of September and October,” she said. “We won’t miss a trip.”
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