- Tony Jackson, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Almost from the moment he was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round in 2006, Clayton Kershaw has heard his name mentioned in the same sentence with Sandy Koufax. On Saturday night, his name was printed on the same passenger manifest.
The result was an hourlong conversation that could have a lasting impact on the promising young left-hander's burgeoning career.
Kershaw had been invited by Dodgers manager Joe Torre, at the behest of Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers, to join Torre for a charity event in Los Angeles to benefit Torre's Safe at Home Foundation. Koufax joined Torre on stage for a question-and-answer session with the audience while Simers served as emcee. Kershaw played a small role in the event, then flew back to Phoenix on a private plane with Torre and Koufax.
"It did my heart good, because those guys talked the whole way back about pitching and competing,'' Torre said. "It was great to sit around watching and listening to it.''
Kershaw, who is entering his third major league season despite the fact he is still three weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, is expected to be a key member of the Dodgers' starting rotation this season and might even be their Opening Day starter on April 5 at Pittsburgh. Like Koufax, he is a left-hander with potentially dominating stuff.
"To get to sit there and talk with him for an hour is pretty unbelievable,'' Kershaw said. "I learned more in that one plane trip than I have in a long time. Honey [Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt] is great with mechanics and everything, and I have learned a lot from him, but at the same time, [Koufax was] maybe the best ever, so it was pretty cool.''
Koufax, who lives in the Dodgers' former spring training home of Vero Beach, Fla., is visiting his stepdaughter in the Phoenix area for the next several days and is expected to make his annual spring training appearance to work with a handful of the organization's pitchers later this week. But none of those pitchers will get the personal access to Koufax that Kershaw did.
"We just talked baseball for a while, talked pitching,'' Kershaw said. "He just gave me a lot of good insight. I had met him before. I guess I had seen him at every spring training I have been at, at least the past three. He watched me throw a bullpen a couple of years ago, but this was the first time I got to talk with him a little bit. It was pretty awesome.''
Kershaw's participation in the charity event -- which Torre said raised more than $700,000 -- was a surprise to the more than 7,000 attendees at the Nokia Theater. According to Torre, Simers unveiled a large poster of Koufax making a guest appearance on a 1962 episode of "Dennis the Menace" in which Koufax taught Jay North's Dennis character the proper way to throw a curveball. Simers then asked for a "kid'' to come up out of the audience so Koufax could deliver the same lesson some 48 years later, and in this case, the kid was Kershaw.
"Without my uniform on, I'm not sure people recognized me until T.J. asked me to say my name,'' said Kershaw, who even at 21 could be mistaken for someone much younger. "I guess the best way to describe [the whole experience] would be that I felt really comfortable when I was with [Koufax]. Some Hall of Fame baseball players that I have met, I don't want to say they weren't approachable, but you're more in awe of them almost. But he makes it really easy to talk to him. It's almost like he is another coach that you're talking to about pitching.''
6hJohn Fisher, ESPN Stats & Information