Many of the children at the 2012 Mercy Street Baseball Camp had never met a professional athlete before a visit from Clayton Kershaw, the man whose initials were monogrammed on their donated gloves.
Five years later, the former Highland Park standout and star pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers still has a presence in that West Dallas neighborhood. His camp, part of the Kershaw’s Challenge nonprofit, has become an annual fixture every November, and it’s now held on the field that bears his name.
This fall will mark the one-year anniversary of the opening of Kershaw Challenge Field at the Mercy Street Sports Complex, one of the top youth baseball facilities in the city and a source of pride for its community.
The field was partially funded by donations from the faith-based organization founded by Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, in 2011.
“The partnership has jump-started this project. Everybody in major league baseball knows and respects Clayton,” said Lee Jackson, director of sports for Mercy Street. “It helps us because he’s a Christian guy. Character is huge. They have great hearts and really want to support people.”
The Kershaw camp has grown from about 50 children in its first year to more than 350 participants in 2016.
“The Kershaw’s Challenge field was built thanks to the incredible generosity of our donors,” the Kershaws said in a joint statement. “We are so proud to see it finished and being used for practices, games, and tournaments . . . What a dream come true!”
The ballpark includes a turf infield and grass outfield, a press box, concession stand, covered bleachers for 500 spectators, LED lighting, bullpens and dugouts, and a batting cage.
“It’s top-notch,” Jackson said. “We want these guys to understand that there’s no excuses. We give you the opportunity. We’re making it look for the community so people won’t be scared to come down here.”
Kershaw’s Challenge Field is one of five baseball diamonds in the complex, which is expected to be completed this fall with fields for soccer, football, and softball. Additional funding for those projects has come from the Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys, and FC Dallas soccer team, among others.
Jackson said Kershaw is not involved with the camp merely for the publicity; he interacts with campers personally and provides inspiration for youngsters, many of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds.
“Clayton is open and meets with every kid and talks to them,” Jackson said of the three-time Cy Young Award winner. “They hope that one day they can be like Clayton, because he hung out with them.”
The baseball program at Mercy Street includes more than 500 players ages 12 and younger, with some alumni having gone on to play in high school and earn college scholarships.
“It has been an honor to partner with Mercy Street in their ministry and efforts in West Dallas,” the Kershaws said. “Their vision for new fields captured our attention and matched our desire to impact youth and community through love of a game.”