Dallas Tigers founder/board chairman/head coach Tommy Hernandez has recollections of the 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-hander Clayton Kershaw – a fourth-year starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers who on Thursday was named the winner of the 2011 National League Cy Young Award – a lot of other folks wouldn’t have.
Kershaw was childhood friends with current Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford while the two were growing up in Dallas, and he and Stafford first met Hernandez when they became part of the Dallas Tigers organization as 11-year-olds.
“I remember Clayton and Matt, and I had known (Kershaw) for awhile because I had been giving him instruction,” Hernandez recalled in a telephone conversation with Perfect Game Thursday morning. “All I remember is that he was a short, chubby left-hander that nobody wanted. We kept him, he played with us and had great hands; he was a really good first baseman. He was also a great kid who grew to be 6-foot-3.”
Kershaw had an amazing 2011 campaign with the Dodgers, who selected him out of Highland Park High School in the first round with the seventh overall pick in the 2006 amateur draft. He won this year’s NL pitching “triple crown” by leading the league in wins with 21 (he finished 21-5), ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248 in 233 1/3 innings).
In four seasons as a Dodger starter – he spent three seasons in the minors – he is 47-28 with a 2.88 ERA.
Kershaw played for the Dallas Tigers in the 2004 PG/BA World Championship in Fort Myers, Fla., and also pitched for DBAT at the 2005 WWBA 18U National Championship. Perfect Game ranked Kershaw the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect in the class of 2006, behind only right-hander and fellow Texan Kyle Drabek and left-hander Brett Anderson from Oklahoma. Drabek was selected 18th overall by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2006 amateur draft and is now with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Anderson was a second round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks and is now with the Oakland A’s.
Kershaw was named the 2006 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year after going 13-0 with 0.77 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 64 innings during his senior season at Highland Park.
“Clayton has electric stuff on the mound,” Highland Park head coach Lew Kennedy said after Kershaw earned the award. “He competes well and has a knack for getting strikeouts in tough situations. He is a humble young man who is a great role model for our team and community.”
Kershaw intended to play baseball at Texas A&M before being drafted so high. He made his major league debut on May 25, 2008 just shy of two years from the day he was drafted. Hernandez said he is not the least bit surprised by Kershaw’s meteoric rise.
“He was dominating in high school, especially his junior and senior seasons,” Hernandez said. “He always had a good pick-off move and he had good command of his breaking ball and changeup. Then he just got big and started throwing real hard.”
Kershaw is the second Perfect Game alum to win a Cy Young Award. Right-hander Zack Greinke, now with the Milwaukee Brewers, won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009 while a member of the Kansas City Royals.