ARLINGTON — You think these playoffs are weird?
Try being Clayton Kershaw.
On Wednesday, Kershaw will start a game as a professional in what amounts to his hometown for the first time in his Hall of Fame career. It should be one of two final boxes to check on his Hall of Fame career checklist. The other: Pick up a World Series trophy, which he might just do in three weeks. Also, if he’s lucky, that’s when he’ll see his Highland Park home again.
He and his wife, Ellen, are in pandemic playoff limbo. They packed up their Los Angeles home last week but can’t get into their own home 15 miles up the road until the Dodgers’ playoff run ends. Kershaw won’t see his group of high school buddies. He won’t even get a plate of enchiladas at his favorite Snider Plaza haunt. Welcome to life in baseball’s bubble.
Oh, and the mound he’ll toe? Not the one in the middle of the field of his dreams. That is sitting empty across the street from Globe Life Field.
At least he has Ellen and the kids, Cali, Charlie and eight-month-old Cooper. They didn’t travel — couldn’t travel — during the regular season. But Friday, a day after Kershaw pitched eight scoreless innings against Milwaukee to wrap up the wild card series, the Kershaws entered the MLB bubble.
“It feels exactly like that — like we are in a bubble,” Ellen said Tuesday morning, though she was clear she wasn’t complaining. “But we’ve just created the new normal. We had been sequestered all season. Now, the kids can see all their friends and play.”
Said Kershaw: “It’s definitely different to be in Dallas and have to stay in a hotel, and things like that. But at the end of the day, both teams are having to deal with it and I’m not the only one with family in town, and you know it’s even more reason to make it to the next round so people can come and watch.”
This, of course, is the Kershaw way. They always seem to find a silver lining.
Take, for example, the novelty of pitching in Arlington. Yeah, it would be great to do so in front of family and friends. On the other hand, Kershaw can be a bit, shall we say, intense on the days he pitches. Had he pitched in Arlington on one of the Dodgers’ four previous visits to play the Rangers during his career, he probably wouldn’t have been able to enjoy a night of Tex-Mex and stories with his buddies.
“The visits have been a lot more chill,” Ellen said. “I think it was something he wanted to check off, but he hasn’t had to worry about pitching. He’s just been able to spend time with friends and family and enjoy it.”
An hour later, Kershaw’s reply to the same question: “It would be a pretty cool thing to say I got to do. I’ve thought about it. But I got to go be a visiting player in the ballpark that I grew up watching a lot of other big leaguers. The first time we were here in 2009, to just literally be on that field where you watched your favorite players, that was pretty special. It wasn’t lost on me then. It would have been cool to pitch, but, at the end of the day, I got to see lot more friends and family.”
Besides, Ellen and the kids are his home. And they will be in the park for the first time this season on Wednesday. Neither fans nor families were allowed into stadiums this year. Nor were families allowed to travel due to COVID-19 protocols. Typically, the Kershaws have traveled everywhere together. That, in itself was a major change.
On Wednesday, his buddies, like Josh Meredith will gather around a TV, just as they did last week to watch Kershaw dominate the Brewers.
“He sent me a picture of the hotel,” Meredith said. “He told me to come wave to him through the glass. I think he was joking.”
Meanwhile, Kershaw will get up and, for the first time this season, have his normal game-day routine. He will start with cereal and milk for breakfast and a turkey sandwich for lunch — Ellen was able to arrange all those staples easily enough even in the bubble. He will play with the kids for a bit, which has been the biggest and happiest diversion from the old routine. Then he’ll walk across the street into a brand-new stadium and pitch in front of his family.
And though he may not be in his house, there is little doubt that because of it, Clayton Kershaw will be at home.
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