SYDNEY (Reuters) - Clayton Kershaw is 7,500 miles from Dodger Stadium preparing to play on a converted cricket ground in front of a sell-out crowd of Australians but for baseball’s first $200 million pitcher, opening day is just opening day.
Kershaw has been named starting pitcher for Saturday’s game at the Sydney Cricket Ground between his Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks which will start a major league season he hopes will end with a World Series ring.
Having signed a seven-year deal with the Dodgers in January worth a reported $215 million, the three-times All Star has become the face of the two-game series Down Under. For him, though, it has been pretty much business as usual.
“For us there’s not been much build-up, opening day is opening day,” he told reporters on Thursday.
”Obviously the anticipation of that is always fun and getting to be part of it here is pretty cool, it’ll probably never happen here in Australia again.
“But as far as any added stuff, it’s not really that different.”
Kershaw was not prepared to comment on reports that the Dodgers considered not bringing him to Australia but said now he had made the trip, he was glad he would be starting.
“It’s just being in Arizona for an extra week, pitching in minor league games, I guess you do technically get your work in, but there’s not the adrenaline, it’s just not the same intensity,” he said.
“The more I thought about it, it would have been tough to simulate a season in minor leagues. Some guys are good at it, but it’s really hard for me. I like to simulate the adrenaline.”
Kershaw, who finished last season with a 16-9 record and a Major League-best earned run average of 1.83, has not exactly lit up spring training but said that would be irrelevant once the first pitch is tossed on Saturday night.
”That’s over now so that doesn’t really matter any more,“ he said. ”I don’t necessarily need a good outing to put it right in my mind. It’s the regular season so you try to win the games.
”Obviously, (in spring training) you can feel great and pitch well and if you lose it doesn’t really matter.
“Now, it helps me to simplify it, just win, and that’s what I‘m trying to do.”
Although he accepts that having earned the richest ever contract for a major league pitcher is a great responsibility, he does not think it will make him marked man on the mound.
“If I‘m pitching against a guy who’s one of the best in the game, nothing really changes I‘m just trying to get the guy out regardless,” he said.
“Most hitters would say that they don’t really care who they get their hits off, just try and get a hit. I don’t really expect much difference.”
Even before he landed his new contract, Kershaw and his wife Ellen had shown a marked charitable streak and they make annual trips to Africa where their foundation has set up an orphanage for ‘at-risk’ children in Zambia.
Kershaw said he was glad that his high profile allowed them to promote such initiatives and he discovered when he celebrated his 26th birthday in Sydney on Wednesday that it had other benefits too.
“Ellen’s really big on birthdays so I’ve got a lot to live up to for her birthday,” he said.
“She had the advantage with us being in Australia and pulled some strings and I got to pet a baby kangaroo. It wasn’t at a zoo, they brought it to me.”
Editing by John O'Brien