The Man is finally a Champion: Kershaw now pitching with a lead instead of from behind

For all of the regular season accolades Clayton Kershaw has achieved during his 12 seasons in Major League Baseball, detractors of the lefty have always had one major gripe: How’s he going to screw up in the playoffs.

But after a stellar performance in the 2020 playoffs, including two key wins for the Dodgers in the World Series (Games 1 and 5), Kershaw may have been able to re-write the narrative on his own career as he is now a champion.

As a collector of Clayton Kershaw memorabilia — namely his baseball cards and his game-used baseballs — this has been a hell of a roller coaster ride. I took a liking to the lefty around the time of the 2006 MLB Draft. I’ve always been a fan of pitching and while that’s not where folks advise to “invest” your time and money in this hobby, such advise has never dictated what made me happy. Around the time of the draft I had seen many a clip highlighting the lefty’s knee-buckling curveball. It was then that I felt this urge to own something of his. As fate would have it, I came to own perhaps one of his most coveted baseball cards: his 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Refractor autograph.

At the time, Walmart had begun selling blaster boxes of the product. And unlike with everything being sold today, the stuff didn’t always immediately sell. I opened one blaster and pulled a blue refractor (non-auto) of then-prospect Travis Snider. That success made me go seek out more of the product, and a day later I came across another blaster in a Walmart in another city. It was then that I hit the jackpot. In one of the packs from the blaster was the card that would be the foundation of a player collection of a guy who’d eventually become one of the baseball’s finest.

I’m not going to lie. I was not always considering myself a Kershaw collector per se. My PC, or personal collection, at the time revolved heavily around rookies (and first prospect cards) of anyone who had cards. Really.

I enjoyed Kershaw cards early on but was not holding them as an investment. In fact, my mentality was about obtaining the aforementioned rookie cards because they felt like good monetary buys in a relatively volatile market. Collecting isn’t all about the money, but sometimes you can’t help but at least consider it. Besides, I had just taken my foot off the gas pedal a bit with my other player collection: Roger Clemens. While I enjoyed collecting single players, I really wanted to achieve bigger goals – I wanted the icons of cardboard.

For years I focused on that rookie collection, and at times I missed the simplicity of player collecting. It was at that time I decided to really dive into the Kershaw collection. It started with every base card I could find in my boxes. And then with the ease of COMC and eBay I acquired more. Then through trades the collection continued to grow. Sometimes I focused on quality, other times quantity. And to date I have more than 1,200 unique cards in my possession and another 300 or so on the way. By the time those cards are catalogued, the Kershaw collection may very well outnumber the Roger Clemens collection, which is right around 1,500 unique pieces.

Cards are my first hobby love, and at some point I intend to photograph and post each of the Kershaw cards either here or on another platform. But my hobby desires over the last half-decade have shifted and now include game-used memorabilia, specifically baseballs.

***

The very first time I saw Clayton Kershaw pitch live, he was involved in a battle with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. I live in northern California, so up until Sept. 29, 2015, I had only been able to see Kershaw pitch on television. And then that late-season matchup was announced and thre NL West crown was on the line. Kershaw — the guy who I could not wait to see pitch live — was facing off a local lefty whom I had seen pitch plenty and also enjoyed. The battle, in my mind, was going to be epic. To some degree the real outcome was epic. Kershaw tossed a 1-hit, 13-strikeout complete game masterpiece as the Dodgers clinched the title that night in San Francisco. After the game I located the game-used memorabilia booth hoping to get a piece of the action, but learned quickly that obtaining game-used items isn’t always easy , even if you’re caught up in the moment and willing to spend whatever you’ve got. Typically the home team controls any used items, including bases and balls, however since the Dodgers had clinched the NL West title they worked out some sort of deal and the Dodgers took possession of it all. In short, that night I left with no physical memorabilia, just a smile, great memories and a bunch of photos I took from the field-level seats my sister and I had along the third baseline.

A year or so later while searching eBay I found a ball from the game for sale. Needless to say I made it mine — it was a pitch in the dirt thrown by Kershaw to Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. And about a year after buying that I found another from the same game involving the same players from another at-bat in the game.

The first of those balls was the first Kershaw-used item (non card relted) I owned. And to date, the collection of Kershaw-used baseballs is now nearing two dozen, the biggest two in my mind being a 2018 ball used by Kershaw to strikeout former NL MVP Ryan Braun, and one thrown by Kershaw in Game 5 of the 2018 World Series, the contest in which the Red Sox would rough up the lefty and win their fourth title of the century. This ball is valuable to anyone who collects game-used balls since World Series memorabilia has a lot of desire. This ball for me, however, is literally priceless because I was at the game.

I’d written about this experience before — about being a kid from the San Francisco Bay Area who as a youth chose Roger Clemens as his favorite player and then latched onto the Boston Red Sox; about sticking with the Sox even after Clemens went to Toronto, then Boston, then Houston, and back to New York. I’d chronicled how the night of Game 5 of the 2018 World Series I wept while standing at Dodger Stadium watching my team celebrate a championship — something I’d hope all fans would be able to claim.

While the baseball from that night is something I’d never willingly part with, there are other items I’d also have a tough time moving, including a single game-used cleat from Kershaw’s 2009 season.

***

If you follow me on Twitter, I’d been discussing this cleat in vague terms for almost half a year, or pretty much since COVID changed the routine of our lives. I’ve yet to share the full story. Now is as good as a time than any other, right?

In early March while doing an eBay search for Kershaw items, I got frisky and looked for “better” items, meaning not just cards or baseballs. I wanted something more substantial – I wanted something that I could display.

During the search I found a listing for a signed and authenticated Clayton Kershaw used cleat. Not a pair of cleats, but a single cleat — one dirty right shoe that was caked with mud but was emblazoned with a Steiner Memorabilia sticker/COA. The asking price was much higher than many of the other items I usually purchased, but this was to be expected, especially since I was looking for a substantial piece.

I did a bit of research and saw more modern cleats sold in pairs were well into the four digits. This single shoe from early in his career looked like a deal. And when I photo-matched it to several games, including a a few from the playoffs in 2009, I knew it had to be mine. A bit of haggling ensued and a deal was struck. The overtime I had worked that week was going to fund a special item in my collection and I wasn’t mad at all.

Now, here’s where the story gets a bit funky. Remember the context of the time. The deal was struck in the first week of March, and it was shipped pretty quickly using USPS Priority Mail. At the time the United States was still fully functioning. The discussion about COVID-19 was still somewhat of a international story, not exactly one that had turned into the giant mess that we know it now to be. On March 16, it was announced that the Bay Area — where there had been a high concentration of presumed positive tests — was one of the first areas in the state to go into a “Shelter In Place” order. This was new to everyone, we had no clue what we were getting into.

That day I had an emergency dental appointment and my sister was home all day, so she would have been there to receive the package. When I got out of my appointment, I checked the shipping status and found that USPS had tried to deliver the package but left a notice behind. As I drove home the SIP order was just being leaked and I feared I would NEVER receive the cleat I had paid for. Remember, we had not had an SIP order before and had no clue what we’d be allowed to do, if mail would be delivered or what. For all we knew, we could have gone into a full military lockdown state.

I rushed home to confirm there was no package, and was furious because my sister was literally inside the house all day working from home. There was no knock at the door — the postman left a silly note on the door without even really trying to deliver the package.

So I drove through our neighborhood looking for the guy, I drove through the next neighborhood and didnt seem him either. I spotted a letter carrier at a local park to ask if he had any idea where the guy was and he said he should still be around. So my search continued and just as I was about to give up, I located the guy eating his lunch — I had zero shame bugging him for my package seeing as how he didn’t even knock on the door.

In the end it turned out well. I got my shoe, and I did thank the postal worker for his service and wished him safety in this time of uncertainty. The package indeed contained a single shoe inside a massive Ziploc bag — mud, gravel and even what looks to be a piece of gum is stuck to the spikes. The cleat is signed by Kershaw, even identifying it as “2009 game used.”

***

The collectibles market is a crazy business and prices fluctuate greatly, as by now I am sure you’ve seen. Just in the last eight months we seem to have experienced intense growth, increased interest and a swell in “value” for some pieces. And with the Dodgers winning their title this week, there surely is another boon to Dodger items, particularly those associated with Kershaw.

For more than a decade, baseball fans have known Kershaw and his domination. He’s the winner of three CY Young Awards, an MVP, a pitching triple crown, author of a no-hitter, and holds various records and is quite possibly the best all-around pitcher the sport has seen this century — others who could also lay claim would include Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

But now, Kershaw is a champion. I’m happy to have been along for the ride — to this point I’ve seen him in person pitch about a half dozen times, including in Division title-clinching setting and on the sports’ biggest stage. I’m thrilled that I personally pulled one of his most desirable cards and that it later led to me collecting his items. And really I am elated for Kershaw as his postseason faults are no longer highlighted with such a heat lamp that it sears the accomplishments of his stellar career.

The pressure is gone. He’s now pitching with a lead. I’m curious to see what he does from here even though his legacy is now firmly solidified.

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