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An MVP On and Off the Field

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw just won two big awards in his sport, but it’s his work off the field that’s truly inspiring. 

La Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw

On Thursday, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first pitcher to win the National League Most Valuable Player award in almost half a century. The previous day, Kershaw won his third Cy Young Award in four years. But Kershaw, who is just 26 years old, is more than just the top pitcher of his generation. The baseball player is also a role model, both on and off the field. 

In 2014, Kershaw missed the first month of the season with a back injury, but still won 21 games – and had just three losses. He had a 1.77 earned run average, best in baseball by a wide margin, and 239 strikeouts this season, pitched his team into the playoffs and threw a no-hitter in June that some say was the best pitching performance in MLB history.

“You never in a million years think you’re going to win an MVP, let alone win a Cy Young Award ,” Kershaw told MLB.com Thursday. “It really is amazing. Individual awards aren’t why we play this game, but I definitely don’t take this honor lightly, especially being a pitcher and winning the MVP. It’s pretty awesome.”

But what Kershaw has done off the field with his fame and fortune is arguably as impressive as his feats on the field. Kershaw puts his faith, not baseball, as the most important thing in his life, and says that what matters most to him is “the legacy you leave off of the field,” not on the baseball diamond.  The pitcher says that “giving up my life to God has put” his life “in control.”

To that end, Kershaw and his wife Ellen started an orphanage in Zambia to help needy children in the country. The Dodger first traveled to Africa after the 2010 season, and told the New York Times that the visit changed his life: “You come home and you see people striving to get more money, more cars, bigger houses and more possessions, thinking that will make them happier,” but that after seeing Zambia, “you realize where happiness comes from, and it’s not from material goods.”

During that trip, the Kershaws met Hope, an HIV-positive 11-year-old girl whose parents died of AIDS. The couple vowed to do something to help her and other orphans. They did. After that trip, Kershaw’s Challenge, the pitcher’s charity, was born.

The organization says its mission is to “encourage people to use whatever God-given passion or talent they have to make a difference and give back to people in need.” So Kershaw’s Challenge partnered with the faith-centered charity Arise Africa to start Arise Home, an orphanage that is currently home to nine Zambian children.

The pitcher’s charity also helps fund Destiny Community School in Lusaka, Zambia and CURE International, an organization that works to “transform the lives of children with physical disabilities in the developing world through medical and spiritual healing.” In addition, Kershaw’s Challenge is working to help the needy in the United States, including helping homeless families in Los Angeles and building a Little League baseball field in Kershaw’s hometown of Dallas.

Aside from the MVP and Cy Young Awards, and the success of their no- profit organization, Clayton and Ellen Kershaw have something else to celebrate this winter. The couple is expecting their first child, a daughter, in January.

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