LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Dodger Clayton Kershaw is arguably the best starting pitcher in baseball.
But his relief work off the field is even more impressive – using his celebrity to help others.
Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, are working to save orphans halfway around the world.
He and Ellen spent some of the off-season in the slums of Africa to help children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.
“I think that you understand that Africa is third world and that you’re going to see some poverty and things like that. But, until you walk the streets and see how these people’s living conditions are, it puts things in perspective and lets you know how blessed you are. At the same time, you see how joyful these people are, especially the kids,” Clayton said.
The dusty streets of Zambia are almost 9,000 miles away from the glitz of Los Angeles.
“I was tentative to go over there. I was nervous about it. Twenty-hour flights and sleeping in places I’ve never seen or heard about,” the pitcher said.
“But then you get over there and it makes sense. You understand why you’re there and understand the good you can do,” he said.
Kershaw credits his wife with inspiring his good deeds.
The couple, childhood sweethearts, married in 2010. A few days after their wedding, they made their first trip to Africa together.
“I knew early on in our marriage that I wanted Clayton to experience this part of my heart. It was so cool to see sort of my two worlds collide. Clayton was over there and teaching the kids how to play baseball. We were in the middle of Zambia, kind of where my heart beat is. I love those kids,” Ellen said.
On the streets of Africa, the 24-year-old had a captive crowd. No fancy team jerseys or Dodger Dogs there — only hungry, barefoot children awed by the American who could make the ball dance in the air.
One child, Hope, especially captured their hearts.
“She’s our girl! We love her so much. I met her when she was nine or so and she’s HIV positive and that was just a gut punch for me,” Ellen said.
Hope is now 12 years old and healthy. She’s the Kershaw’s inspiration for Hope’s Home, an orphanage the Kershaws help sponsor in Zambia. Hope will live there, along with a dozen other children whose parents died of AIDS.
“We believe that with intense mentoring and discipleship and a high education that these kids can really make a difference in their country. So we’re starting small, but we hope to grow and who knows we’re we’ll go from here,” Ellen said.
Ellen is convinced Clayton’s experience in Africa made him a better person and a better ball player. A few months after his first visit, he won the pitching Triple Crown and the National League Cy Young Award.
The Kershaws have written a book about their life experiences, “Arise”, that is meant to inspire others.
“That’s the cool think about this. So many people have gotten on board and heard about the cause. And they want to help and that’s awesome!” Clayton said.
Kershaw now is back in L.A., starting his fifth season with the Dodgers.
But he’s left something behind in Zambia. In the village of Lusaka, Kershaw’s blue pitching tarp is a reminder of the athlete who threw his heart into something bigger than baseball and a big blue promise that Clayton will be coming back again.
For every strikeout he pitches, Clayton Kershaw donates $100 to his charity, “Kershaw’s Challenge”. To learn more about “Kershaw’s Challenge” click here.