LOS ANGELES (AP) — Clayton Kershaw’s news conference after his first All-Star Game start was nearly over when Blake Grice spoke up.
The 10-year-old from Denver said his grandfather was a Dodgers fan and a Redondo Beach native who died of brain cancer. Meeting Kershaw allowed Blake to check off an item on his grandfather’s bucket list, the boy said before tearing up.
Kershaw smiled, rose from the dais and grabbed Blake in a protective hug.
“Your granddad sounded like an awesome guy,” Kershaw said. “Thanks for coming up. That took a lot of courage, man. That was awesome.”
After posing for photos by Blake’s father, Kershaw returned to the dugout for the final innings of the Midsummer Classic in a stadium full of fans who adore him just as much as Blake, who does baseball card reviews on YouTube.
Kershaw is reminded of what he means to baseball and to Los Angeles during every start he makes at Dodger Stadium, where he is appropriately beloved as a vital piece of a perennial NL powerhouse since 2008.
After nine All-Star selections and six previous appearances in the game, the three-time Cy Young Award winner serendipitously got his first chance to start an All-Star Game in his home park, and he met the occasion by throwing an entertaining, scoreless first inning.
The AL eventually rallied for a 3-2 victory with three runs off fellow Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin in the fourth, but Kershaw will have mostly positive memories of a landmark day in his career.
“It was actually a lot of fun today to be out there, and the crowd was awesome,” Kershaw said. “I can’t say enough good things about Dodger fans, people in LA in general, just how much these last few days, how much they wanted me to do this. It meant a lot to me.”
Kershaw also gave himself permission to soak in the moment right before he stepped onto the mound to face Shohei Ohtani.
After all, the 34-year-old Kershaw has done just about everything it’s possible to do as a pitcher in modern baseball, but the 2014 NL MVP had never started an All-Star Game before. He also knew he’ll never get the opportunity again to do it in front of the fans who have been behind him since he was a 20-year-old phenomenon.
“I tried to take a minute at the beginning to take it all in and look around, which I usually never do,” Kershaw said. “Being here at Dodger Stadium, a place where I’ve been now for 15 years, and to get to do something like this with the best in the world, is really fun. And it was also really personal for me and my family, everybody. I’m excited it’s over.”
The All-Star Game was special for the entire home organization. The NL-leading Dodgers placed six players on the roster, and both Mookie Betts and Trea Turner got hits in the first inning. Freddie Freeman grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the third, and left-hander Tyler Anderson was among the pitchers who didn’t get to play.
While Gonsolin took the loss, he looked good doing it. Kershaw bought a custom-made suit for Gonsolin to wear to his first All-Star game — and unsurprisingly, the cat-obsessed Gonsolin added two feline paw prints to the breast pocket.
But the hometown star of the night was undoubtedly Kershaw, who got the first of several standing ovations when he took the field for his pregame stretching. He got one of the biggest pops from the crowd during pregame introductions, and he got another when he took the mound.
When he gave up a broken-bat single to Ohtani on his first pitch, Kershaw wasn’t bothered. He knew Ohtani was going to swing at his first throw, and he didn’t feel right starting off an All-Star Game with a breaking ball.
“He didn’t hit it over the fence, so it was a win and we can move on,” Kershaw said. “You kind of had to give him a heater there. Had to do it.”
Kershaw then atoned by picking Ohtani off first base, although he claimed it was accidental: He was trying to decide what pitch to throw next to Aaron Judge, so he only threw to first to buy himself some time, but caught Ohtani leaning.
Kershaw struck out Judge, but walked Rafael Devers before Vladimir Guerrero Jr. grounded into an inning-ending forceout. Kershaw did some scouting work before the game, but only on the top of the AL lineup.
“If I’d had to face more than four batters, I didn’t know what to do,” Kershaw said.
Kershaw was in an upbeat mood throughout Tuesday night — not only because of his celebratory evening, but because he had already accomplished his toughest task of the All-Star break.
When asked what he’ll remember about the week’s festivities, he quipped: “My 2-year-old is a maniac. Trying to wrangle him for the Home Run Derby, I don’t think I’ve ever been more tired than I was last night.”
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