Baby Health in Winter With baseball in limbo, Clayton Kershaw’s shot at redemption is on hold

Baby Health in Winter

Apr 15, 2020

  • Baby Health in Winter

    Wright ThompsonSenior Writer


      Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN and is executive producer of TrueSouth and co-executive producer of Backstory. He is the author of New York Times bestselling The Cost of These Dreams.

CLAYTON KERSHAW PICKED me up at my hotel at 6: 30 a.m., exactly on time, which is less about making a good impression and more about the rigor with which he orders his life. He’s never late. A few minutes ago, he’d slipped out of a quiet house, leaving behind his wife, Ellen, and their three children, all safe and asleep in the dark. His oldest is about to start school. His youngest, Cooper, turned 2 months old today. His next baseball season begins in 14 days.

“It really does go by fast,” he said.

He turned southwest on Thunderbird Trail, passing huge estates hidden by gates and elaborate shrubbery. Only the gardeners were awake and working. A local Phoenix country station played on the radio. The rain started to fall a little harder, the sky dark on the horizon. The Dodgers’ spring training clubhouse was half an hour away. Kershaw drove and laughed and told stories. His first year in the league, he said, his understanding of the unhinged nature of road fans hadn’t yet been fully developed. Ignoring the advice of veterans, he checked into a hotel using his real name. People called his room all night before a scheduled start, so he had to unplug the hotel phone. Lesson learned. Now he uses character names from television shows. Usually an alias a year. One season he was Jim Halpert. For several he was Walter White. He’s a veteran now.

He asked if I wanted a coffee and then hit a few buttons on his phone. Minutes later, we wheeled into the parking lot of a Starbucks — a Nissan truck slowed to let us cut — and our coffees were hot and waiting. A precise operation.

The name on the coffee order was Tony.

“Who’s Tony?” I asked.

He grinned.

HE SEEMED SO relaxed and confident on this beautiful Arizona morning. That’s what I’d remember later. He believed completely in the promise of the season and wasn’t afraid of the things lurking in the shadows, not personal demons like past failures and certainly not a virus.

Nothing had fallen apart yet.

We were driving through Phoenix on a Thursday in mid-March — the Thursday in March. We both still assumed he would take the mound on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium. His coffee cup sat in the console. He yawned. This morning he was scheduled to throw a bullpen session. In three days, he’d make a spring start against the Reds. His focus extended to Sunday and not beyond. His goal for Sunday was five innings, building on the four he threw last time out.

He sounded proud of himself when, as a way of showing how much he’s relaxed over the years about his monastic schedule, he told me that the same day of his last start he attended a “baseball meeting deal.” As if to say: I am capable of doing normal human stuff on days I pitch … look how well-adjusted I’ve become!

“What’s a baseball meeting?” I asked.

“I, uh … “

He paused.

“I met with Rob Manfred,” he said. “A few of us did.”

Manfred reached out to the Dodgers for a check-in, and, with an audience, Kershaw had a chance to air any pent-up anger about the Houston Astros cheating scandal. Perhaps no team has lost as much as the Dodgers, and perhaps no Dodger was damaged as much as Kershaw. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, a once-in-a-generation talent, and he will also be remembered for bad luck and bad outings in the playoffs. The biggest of those failures — there’s a compilation video online that has about 100,000 views — was against the Astros in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci found a single statistic that tells the story of that game better than any commissioner’s investigation. Clayton Kershaw is known for his devastating curveball, and an equally weaponized slider, and he threw 51 breaking pitches to the Astros that night and they swung and missed at exactly zero. I covered those games in Houston, remembered them well, so I hesitated and then gently picked at the scab.

“I was at that World Series,” I told him finally.

“Yeah?” Kershaw said … and then he went quiet.

The only sound in the car was the click of the turn signal. Thirteen seconds of silence passed. Honestly, it felt like twice that long. Finally, he said something about the traffic and we rode on toward the west side of town.

WE WERE SITTING in his Tahoe talking about the traffic because 155 days before this early Phoenix morning, he had done it again. And by it, of course, I mean he once more exposed the most tender part of himself because his teammates counted on him to be Clayton Fricking Kershaw. The Dodgers were protecting a 3-1 lead in the decisive NLDS Game 5 against the Nationals. With two outs in the seventh and the go-ahead run at the plate, manager Dave Roberts called for Kershaw to come out of the bullpen. As he ran toward the mound, the crowd at Dodger Stadium stood and cheered. They all believed. So did Kershaw, who got his team out of the inning on three straight pitches and stalked toward his seat in the dugout pumping his fist and roaring.

Listen: Wright Thompson discusses Clayton Kershaw’s playoff struggles and his legacy on the ESPN Daily podcast.

He came back out in the eighth inning, though, and in less than a minute gave up back-to-back home runs. The YouTube haters began adding to their montage. It seemed sudden and unfair. Two home runs and a tied game, and a cemented reputation. Fifty-eight seconds in a career totaling 2,433 innings. Pulled from the game, Kershaw sat in the dugout alone, his head hung in penance, looking scarred and old. “I let down the guys in the clubhouse,” he said afterward. “That’s the hardest part every year. … Everything people say is true right now about the postseason.”

The next day, I sent Kershaw’s agent an email asking if I could schedule an interview, laying out how emotional I found it to watch him be willing to fail again for the chance of success. I told him, I’d like to do a story about Clayton and how these failures live in his internal life. It took five months, but here we were, driving down I-10 West in Phoenix. “That first week after the season ends, it’s like something happens in your brain where you just mentally shut down,” he said. “Your body hurts. You’re sore — like, everything — you’re just like tired and your whole routine has changed.”

“You’ve been running on adrenaline,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “I mean, especially the way our seasons have ended and mine personally. Go to the playoffs, lose in the playoffs the last seven years, it’s just … it’s depressing.”

I asked him what came after the failure against the Nats.

“The next day,” he said, “we just kinda sat there.”

Ellen packed their clothes into these clear zip-up bags she’s got — her Instagram contains a master class on packing, Kershaw brags — and then loaded everything into their cars, which they shipped back to Texas. That was it. One season ended and the next one waited out there in the distance. He closed the book.

Then he got back at it. For the first time in years, his offseason work began immediately. That’s a new old luxury. For the previous six years, Kershaw had usually left the season not only deeply disappointed but also in a lot of pain. He nursed an injured back in 2014. His back hurt in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and his shoulder hurt last year. But for 2020, he could improve and not just repair. “I really felt like I could focus on just getting stronger,” he said. “I feel like I did.”

Being this ready for Opening Day is a gift at 32 — young for the world, ancient for a pitcher — when the enemy isn’t the opposing team, no matter how many trash cans they bang, so much as your own decline.

“March 26,” he told me.

That was the circle on his calendar. Opening Day at Dodger Stadium again. All was right in his world once he could shrink it. “I look at it just in a five-day cycle, honestly, and don’t really look much past that,” he said, “because it does get pretty overwhelming. Like, golly, I’ve gotta do this thing 30-something times — these five days over and over and over again.”

Kershaw is as famous for that bubble as he is for using words like golly. It’s hard to talk to anyone about him without their bringing up the routine. Excuse me: The Routine. Every profile ever written about Kershaw includes a list of all the weird stuff that we just accept because he’s a ballplayer. If any of our co-workers insisted on, say, taking a sip of water at exactly 6: 20, or running on the field at exactly 6: 23, or if they got real anxiety if stadium officials changed the time of the national anthem, we’d call human resources to try to get the guy some help. These details are often listed under a topic sentence about control. Get it? I kept reading about this strange and intense ordering of his professional life when something hit me. What do all of those things actually have in common? What is he always trying to control? Do you see it? Drinking from a cup of water at the exact same moment. Running onto the field exactly three minutes later. Freaking out over a 90-second delay in “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Never, ever being late — not even to pick up a writer for a drive to the ballpark. Clayton Kershaw isn’t obsessed with control. He’s obsessed with time.

HE’S ACUTELY AWARE of its ebbing. I know this because he told me. Several times. There is no more important prism through which to view Kershaw’s upcoming season than through his desire to make the most of whatever he’s got left. Don’t get the idea that he’s a lion in winter or anything. He’s optimistic about what he can do with the seasons he’s got left. He just knows they’re coming and going fast.

There is a clear line of demarcation for this realization. On June 18, 2014, he awoke as a man in full control of his powers. That afternoon, he drove to Dodger Stadium and had his cup of water at the same time, and ran onto the field at the same time, as Ellen watched from the stands in a bright yellow sweater. They started dating in high school and got married in 2010. Kershaw had two Cy Young Awards in the past three seasons and was halfway to his third. (He hasn’t won another since.) When the season ended, he’d be voted National League MVP. This was the peak. The Rockies couldn’t touch him that day. Kershaw threw his first no-hitter, as close to perfect as he’s ever been, before or since. Vin Scully talked about Ellen throughout the game, and the cameras focused on their hug afterward, Clayton’s home whites soaked in Gatorade, but nobody knew the secret they shared.

Ellen was newly pregnant.

The day before, they’d seen their daughter’s heartbeat for the first time. Neither of them had ever seen any ultrasounds, much less one of their own little girl. Cali was the size of a lentil.

It’s not a coincidence that Kershaw’s home gym in Dallas is the same age as his oldest. Ellen was skeptical of any plan to add on to her house and to replace the grass in their backyard with artificial turf strong enough to support his workout sled. He persisted — already trying to figure out how to merge the focus his work demanded with the kind of life they both wanted. The gym opens into the yard. His son has found that it’s fun to follow him like a shadow during his workouts. Ellen has found she can leave a baby monitor in there and go run errands while he lifts. It’s a cornerstone of the precarious dance steps they’re trying to learn.

They decided early on that the only way he could still be great, and they could still be great together, was if the family traveled with him. That meant Ellen and the kids would follow the Dodgers across the country. That’s rare in the big leagues, and it’s not easy. Ellen saw the anxiety it caused Clayton when she’d sit down with the team schedule and try to plan a lot of the travel at once. It overwhelmed him to try to live in the real world where airplane tickets needed to be booked while he was also trying to stay focused on a five-day universe. The next game, and the next nine batters, occupied a central part of his brain.

So Ellen doesn’t keep a family calendar. Not a physical one, and not one on her computer or phone. On Opening Day, the Dodgers pass out a magnet schedule that she puts on their refrigerator and a folding pocket schedule she can take with her wherever she goes. Any time anyone asks her a question — when the tree guy can come, or the dude who sets traps for moles, or anything — she goes to the fridge or opens her purse. “Every baseball family does it different,” Ellen said. “And I just know that our family would not function without Clayton. We say seven days is our max of what we can spend without each other.”

This has all worked because the kids weren’t in school yet. It made it simple in some ways once Ellen handled all the logistics. But school will force them to make hard decisions, and those were on Kershaw’s mind as we got closer and closer to the complex of baseball fields where the Dodgers train.

“Now my oldest is 5,” he said. “Come August she’s in kindergarten.”

“How’s that gonna work?”

“Exactly,” he said.

Sometimes he laughs at how quickly it’s all passed. Last year, for the first time, the Dodgers awarded parking spots at the stadium based on service time. He was second from the door. Clayton Kershaw is running out of Opening Days, which might explain why he was so ready for this one. He felt great. Strong, ready, dangerous. Better than he’d felt in years. And more aware than ever of the rush of time.

“My youngest is 2 months today, actually,” he said. “So, like, man, how long do I have to play for him to remember this? I’m trying to do the math. I don’t know. We’ll see if I make it.”

WE WALKED TOGETHER into the Dodgers’ spring training building, a sleek, low-to-the-ground building out where the Phoenix metroplex reluctantly gives way to the desert. That’s where we learned the baseball world had started to turn upside down in the short time it took us to drive out here from my hotel. This was the Thursday, remember? March 12, 2020 — the day the virus canceled the sports world. Inside, the energy was charged, the phone ringing constantly with people wanting to know if that night’s game was suspended, or if all of spring training would be. Kershaw and I both actively processed the idea that tomorrow might be vastly different from today. He went back to the clubhouse to find out what was going on, and he came to tell me that the facility was locked down and that I should wait out in the lobby.

“Everyone is freaking out,” he said.

He seemed either nervous or just apologetic that he’d told me I could shadow him and now everything seemed to have changed. The Dodgers’ game the night before was packed with fans, even though an hour before the first pitch the NBA had announced that a player had tested positive and the league was shutting down. Things were changing quickly. Fear spreads like a rumor. He went back into the clubhouse, but he didn’t go pitch. As his teammates ambled through the door one by one, they watched the news. I did the same thing in the media room near the lobby. There was a coffee maker in there.

Clayton came out to check on me and fill me in. He’d already started to worry about whether baseball might follow basketball’s lead, and what that meant for all the positive energy he’d accumulated, and what it would do to the schedule aimed at March 26.

“I’m supposed to pitch Sunday, so even in spring training, this is what I need to do today,” he said. “Normally at this time I’m looking at these hitters and figuring out what to throw. Just down to a science so you don’t even have to think about what you’re supposed to do.”

I laughed.

“You’re gonna hate being retired,” I said.

He laughed too.

“It’ll be interesting,” he said.

In the lobby, Kershaw saw a beat reporter from The Athletic he wanted to talk to. The reporter had broken the news that Kershaw had gone to a Seattle pitching ashram called Driveline Baseball — which blends analytics and targeted workouts with weighted balls, as well as a number of other proprietary training techniques. Kershaw loved the mental work and learning more about how his body worked, how to be efficient with his power and his movements. The trainers at Driveline put him in those motion capture dots and he got to see his hip speed and his trunk speed, looking for tiny flaws. He left with his mind and shoulder feeling good. What he didn’t leave with was a desire for everyone to know he’d been there. Kershaw wanted to keep his Driveline visit a secret, and that’s how it stayed for months — and then the writer found out from a source, confirmed it with the team president and got comment from Kershaw. Hence the conversation happening in front of me.

“I didn’t want that out,” Kershaw said.

They are polite to each other, well-reasoned, and both stand their ground.

“There was a better way to handle that,” Kershaw said.

Afterward, I pressed him a bit. Why keep it a secret? Kershaw is a grown-up and understands that almost nothing in his life is off-limits, and yet he also seems to know that the narrow gap separating how he’s seen by other people — including reporters like me who spend a day with him and then write his life story — and how he sees himself is where his magic lives. The offseason is when he can heal, body and mind. The space between belongs to him. “I don’t want people to know what I do every offseason,” he said. “I just think, you know, the offseason is … “

He exhales deeply, another pause.

“I guess to answer the question … I don’t really know. I just don’t like it. I feel like I don’t want people to know.”

THE SPORTS WORLD came apart not all at once but in bursts and dribbles, minute by minute. Kershaw went back to follow the news with his teammates, and I found a seat near the wall. Uncertainty was palpable in those first hours. The receptionist’s phone kept ringing. Fans asked what to do. People wanted answers. Building security let the gate guards know some lawyers were coming and not to hold them up with a lot of questions. There was some sort of MLB call going on, that much was clear. Folks were gathering upstairs in a conference room. MLS went first. Three minutes after that, the Big Ten canceled its basketball tournament. Two minutes later, the SEC did the same. Dominoes were falling quickly now. I watched on television as my friend and co-worker Jeff Passan delivered the news baseball fans had been waiting to learn: Spring training was over. I looked out the window and saw Passan standing on the sidewalk, doing the hit that was being broadcast on television, which felt like a statement on the weird fishbowl nature of observing a sports shutdown from inside a sport shutting down.

Finally, Kershaw came back out.

“Crazy, man,” he said. “What a day for your ride-along.”

“I was just watching on TV as they canceled stuff,” I said.

“I know,” Kershaw said. “We didn’t even have a meeting today. We were literally in that clubhouse just watching the TV too, like, ‘Oh, I guess we can go home,’ you know?”

I followed him through the parking lot to the car.

You could tell his mind was racing.

He’s learned from experience how to create a schedule aimed at Opening Day, but with all that in the air, he’s not sure what he’s supposed to do tomorrow. He just needs a date, he keeps thinking.

“I’m imagining you don’t like uncertainty,” I said.

“I’m learning,” he said. “I’m getting better at it.”

“Are you really?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m getting better. I used to be … I think, yeah, I think so.”

His mind was on the three kids at home who live this strange life where they move from house to house and collect bobbleheads of their dad and watch him on television like other kids use FaceTime. “When it comes to [the] kids,” he said, “that’s where it gets me. I just want them to be settled, then I can deal with whatever.”

THE RIDE HOME felt heavy with uncertainty. This spring’s clean start slipped into limbo with everything else. I worried about finding wipes and hand sanitizer for my flight home. Kershaw worried about his family and his season. We both kept saying how strange it all felt. Time seemed to both be stopped and, in another way, rushing away from us at a blinding speed. We tried to talk about normal things. I asked him what his plans were for choosing Cali’s school. Feels like yesterday she was a lentil and now she needs to learn about math.

“We go home every offseason, so in Dallas she’s got a kindergarten she’s going to go to, and it’s going to be great, and it’s awesome, and it’s right across the street from our house, super close,” he said. “And then in LA, we don’t know what that looks like. It could possibly just mean finding a tutor a couple hours a day just to make sure that she’s caught up. Could be finding a school out there, it could mean a lot of different things. But we’re not sure yet.”

Most ballplayers have their family stay at home until summer. That doesn’t sit particularly well with Kershaw. He doesn’t want to live a fake baseball life while his real life is three states away in Dallas. “It’s like, I would rather see my kids, you know?” he said. “I don’t want to wait for three months once I leave in February to see ’em.”

Cali is really into tea parties and princesses. Charley loves to wear his No. 22 Dodgers jersey and run amok in the clubhouse. “Go see the guys” is how he asks if he can eat candy and drink chocolate milk with Kershaw’s teammates. His life is messy and wonderful.

“I mean, the hardest part is the pitching part,” Kershaw said, “and then the second-hardest part is, like, balancing family and being on the field, just like anybody else’s job … but I have a job, and that’s just like any other guy that is working.”

He didn’t know what was going to happen tomorrow.

There were only questions in the first hours. When would they make an announcement about Opening Day? And how was he supposed to construct a schedule without that vital piece of information? He’d cherished this hard-won and lucky streak of good health, but if they played a full season, counting the spring training work he’d done — and now would have to redo — that was simply too many pitches. He’d pay the price next year, and the year after that.

“Now I don’t have a craft,” he said. “I think I’m done for a month or so.”

He was interrupted by his ringing phone.

I looked up at the console and saw who was calling.

“Oh, s—!” I blurted, then apologized because Kershaw doesn’t curse. But come on! The caller’s name was saved into his phone and flashed on his screen: Sandy Koufax.

The phone rang again.

“You mind if I answer it?” Kershaw asked. I shook my head and tried to act cool.

“What’s going on?” Kershaw said after he answered.

“I don’t know when there will be an Opening Day,” Koufax said.

“It sounds like maybe May 1 now,” Kershaw said.

“I just wanted to say, when and if it happens, good luck and good health,” Koufax said.

“Thank you,” Kershaw said, and he sounded like he’d never meant anything more.

“Especially good health,” Koufax said.

GOOD HEALTH IS the best advice Sandy Koufax can give. He mentioned it three times to Kershaw in just a few minutes and it wasn’t random or perfunctory. Koufax walked away from pitching at age 30, when the pain got to be bad enough that he realized he was trading enjoyment later in life for his success. But it’s also the best advice a grandfather can give a father or an old man can give a young one. Good health. A universe lives inside such a simple phrase: Enjoy your family, be a good steward of your talent, don’t cheat your craft, be present for your children, don’t bring your weird celebrity into their sensitive lives, love your wife, appreciate all the good and don’t worry so much about the bad. They talked for a while, about pitching, about family, and at Kershaw’s request, all that will remain private — except to say it’s clear that they are not only great friends but people who respect and admire each other.

They call each other Clayton and Sandy. Outsiders contrast their playoff records, but the men themselves know that a pitcher is measured by everything he does until the moment the tip of his last finger loses contact with the leather of the ball. There’s a reason they call it the release point. Letting go is everything. Koufax provides a sounding board, an example and even a time-traveling proxy. He’s been to the future and can tell his young friend what awaits out in the ether. Good health is Sandy’s way of talking about time. About knowing when it’s over — and just as important, when it’s not.

Kershaw could walk away now. He’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer. His accounts hold more millions than his grandchildren could spend. His arm is healthy enough to play catch with his kids and someday sling grandkids around his pool. His high school sweetheart is still delighted and surprised by him. These are small miracles in any lifetime. But he’s still chasing something, and so this next chapter of his career is rooted in how he balances that chase with his actual life, and in how he feels. His craft continues to intrigue and challenge him. Pursuing a shared goal with his teammates still energizes him. It’s hard but also simple. He doesn’t know if he’s got one season left or six. He might be the last one to know.

“What are you gonna do?” I asked him.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “That’s what I was kinda waiting for in there was like, are we going to stay here? And if we’re going to stay here, are we just going to act like nothing has changed and spring training is just pushed back? And if they do that, then it’s like, how are they going to pay us? If they don’t pay us, we don’t really have to be anywhere, so can I just go home?”

“Aren’t you already in the mental run-up to Opening Day?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Seems like that would jack with you.”

“We’ll find out … “

A new chapter of Kershaw’s career is beginning. Answers will start coming … just as soon as the virus ends and the quarantine is finished and spring training cranks up and the season opens and he can live five days at a time once again.

“I need a date,” he said. “Hopefully within the next day or so I’ll get a date.”

This season, whenever it finally begins, will be No. 13 for Clayton Kershaw.

Sandy Koufax retired after 12.

HE DROPPED ME off at my hotel, and three days later, on a Sunday, he and Ellen and the kids flew back to Texas to wait. They live a few doors down from her sister Ann. In their neighborhood they’re just the Kershaws, which is the distinction Ellen drew for me between how she views their lives in Los Angeles and in Dallas. They settled in like everyone else. They stayed close at night and watched the news. They checked the Centers for Disease Control for advice. They watched the rising numbers of the sick and dead. Clayton threw a baseball into a net. Ellen tried to search for light at the end of the tunnel. They both checked and rechecked the baby monitor. It felt strange for it to be April, with May creeping up, and for them to be in Dallas. They’re both trying not to be consumed with the what-ifs while also looking for silver linings.

“He is healthier than he has ever been,” she said. “So I think that has been frustrating because I think he was so ready to go into the season. But part of me also wonders if taking these months off is just going to be more time for rest on his shoulder … “

She paused.

“You know, Clayton has pitched so many innings.”

Like everyone in America, the Kershaws experienced the self-quarantine on two levels — feeling empathy for the people deeply impacted, and fearful that they might become those people — while also trying to understand how their own hopes and dreams would shake out when it finally ended. As Kershaw threw alone in their backyard, he tapered down to save his arm while also trying to stay sharp enough should the telephone ring. When his daily workout ends, he spends as much time with his kids as possible — the baby, Cooper, especially. This break has allowed him to be there for things he might have otherwise missed.

As the weeks went by, Ellen watched and monitored Clayton’s psyche. She always has done a neat piece of spousal magic: creating a world in which he can focus completely on his craft while also reminding him that it won’t last forever and isn’t the most important thing anyway. Years ago, at the peak of his dominance, they’d sit and talk about how the pitchers who’d one day unseat him as the league’s ace of aces were already in the big leagues, already coming for his stats and prestige. Her answer was to suggest he create something that couldn’t be bested by the newest, hungriest model. “Let’s do something that will last forever,” she told him. They landed on the Kershaw’s Challenge foundation. Some athlete charities are tax havens or vanity trips. The Kershaws’ does real work and raises real money. They spend a lot of time on it. “I always want to remind him,” she said, “when baseball feels really hard, when it feels like such a grind, I want us to always remember that this is such a short chapter in our life.”

This pause has been good in that regard. Maybe you’ve experienced this too. Being stuck at home with just family hasn’t been all bad. There’s been something essential about the quarantine. The frenetic pace of life — of a life — has been halted. It’s made Ellen realize that maybe they were taking this baseball ride for granted, and without being forced to consider life without it, they’d never have understood how much they loved it in the first place. These past few weeks she’s heard the unearthly buzz of a baseball being whipped through the air by her husband’s left arm, followed by the explosion when it hits a net. It struck her the other day: She will feel nostalgia for that sound when his career finally comes to an end. That whizbang that has dominated their lives will vanish forever.

“I will never take it for granted again,” she said.

ONE MORNING DURING this weird national pause, Kershaw walks into a kitchen full of light and laughter. It’s 8: 37 a.m. He’s shaved his spring training beard. With a clean face, he looks like a boy again: fresh, new, eager. He stands in his white kitchen and flips pancakes on a griddle. Turns out, his magical left arm does a mean turn with a spatula too — a flourish at the end of each flip. The baby smiles in his warm gold-cuffed pajamas. The counter is filled with art projects and family photographs in cheerful silver frames.

“Good morning!” Cali says.

“Good morning!” Charley says.

“Good morning, everybody!” Ellen says.

Kershaw still doesn’t have a date. Nothing has been announced. Just rumors about Arizona and May. That doesn’t mean there won’t be baseball. A virus can shut down a business, but it can’t shut down the joy human beings get from flinging a ball around and trying to grab it before it hits the ground.

“Hey, Charley,” Ellen asks. “What do you want to do today?”

The boy holds a pancake in his hand.

“Play baseball and play catch,” he says.

Charley wears a tiny Dodgers shirt.

“What’s dada gonna do?” she asks.

“Be pitcher,” he says, grinning.

His father holds a warm cup of coffee between his hands and smiles. It’s a smile you’d recognize: a man warm and safe in his castle, surrounded by the people he loves, sure that if he could preserve this moment then he’d never want for anything again. Ellen films him in this temporary oasis of bliss, holding his 5-year-old, who is holding his newborn, sitting on a comfortable tan couch, the kids talking about wanting hot dogs for dessert, an old classic baseball movie playing on the screen above the mantel. He likes to watch all his kids piled in bed with Ellen, as she reads them stories, and he likes that they’ll do this all over again tomorrow.

“We’re getting a glimpse of life after baseball,” she says, and that’s not the worst thing in the world. There is only one long day right now. He wakes up and goes into his little office to read his Bible. His Cy Young and MVP awards are in there, along with pingpong trophies from his foundation’s fundraising event. Ellen gently makes fun of the office because does a baseball player really need a desk? His workout is finished by 11: 30 and then he belongs to his family. Someday, when his pitching is over, maybe the gym will be turned into a playroom or a place for the teenagers to hang out and jam the stereo and still give Mom and Dad some peace.

Now Charley puts a blue Lowe’s bucket on his head, and his sister chases him with a plastic sword. They all relax. Kershaw shoots a round of Pop-A-Shot and finishes with a disappointing (for him) 128. Outside, the kids jump into the pool, which has a basketball goal set up over the edge and is choked with an armada of floating rafts and toys. Kershaw gets a running start from the tiny soccer goal and does a huge splashing cannonball. The whole family plays in the yard. He underhands a Wiffle Ball to Charley, who hits it on the bounce and starts running. Dad pretends to chase while his son circles the bases. The little boy slides into home and Kershaw throws his arms out to the side and yells, “SAFE!”

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