Clayton Kershaw birthday flashback: Public Enemy No. 1

In honor of Clayton Kershaw’s 24th birthday today, let us return to a time of innocence and wonder.

It has only been four years and 10 days since I posted a video of the first game Kershaw pitched in that was broadcast by Vin Scully. Wearing uniform No. 96, Kershaw dazzled our fair Vinny with a curveball that froze Sean Casey of the Boston Red Sox.

That video, to my astonishment, earned more than 750,000 hits on YouTube before copyright issues forced its removal. I still have the original copy on my computer, but as far as online goes, it’s harder and harder to find. But here, in not-so-pristine condition, is a link to that video.

That afternoon, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com published a feature on the not-quite-20-year-old Kershaw.

… the buzz Kershaw has created with his 97-mph fastball and jaw-dropping curveball already had teammates raving. Then Torre watched another inning and joined in Clayton-mania.

“That was pretty good, wasn’t it?” Torre asked, knowing the answer.

He said the Dodgers were “not really looking at that” when asked if Kershaw was competing for the fifth-starter spot, although Torre didn’t say no, either. He said the No. 1 priority is Kershaw’s “well-being,” but acknowledged that “you never know for sure the best way to proceed.”

Meaning, if a young player is special enough, there’s no such thing as rushing him. Torre even used the word “special” to describe Kershaw’s curveball. He talked about Kershaw facing “a pretty good part” of a World Series championship lineup with a two-pitch repertoire. While discussing a still-developing changeup Kershaw throws to right-handed hitters, Torre couldn’t help but draw a reference to the greatest Dodgers left-hander of them all who, coincidentally, spent part of this game in the clubhouse talking pitching with Scott Proctor.

“There was a left-handed pitcher in this organization with only a fastball and curve and he was pretty good,” said Torre. “But I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. He’s not too far away from the changeup. He’s got it; it’s a matter of locating it.”

Yes, Kershaw’s got it. He’s also got the clubhouse sensing that an impact player has arrived. Catcher Russell Martin has already said Kershaw throws the best curveball he’s caught.

“He’s really good, man,” said Martin.

Kershaw would give the Dodgers a left-hander in an otherwise all-right-handed starting rotation. It’s hard to find a current Dodgers player who watches Kershaw and doesn’t believe he’s ready for the Major Leagues.

“I wish you could see a video of what I saw from center field,” said Matt Kemp, who made his spring debut in center field Sunday. “He throws that curveball so hard and it snaps 12 to six like you’ve never seen.”…

To think he has fulfilled so many expectations so far.  Amazing.  Happy birthday, Clayton.

  • http://www.mythphile.com/ Blue-eyed Gal (Ellen)

    I can’t believe it’s been 4 years. You inspired me to dig out my grainy photos of that game. I posted a few of then here, with links to a really great photoset by another fan on Flickr:
    http://greekgeek.hubpages.com/hub/Clayton-Kershaws-Debut-May-25-2008

  • Andrew Shimmin

    Holy Mackerel.

  • http://twitter.com/jamesashchem James Ashenhurst

    I remember being in the stands at Vero Beach that day. Kershaw, wearing 96, had a ridiculously short inning. As we watched him mow down the Red Sox,I recall the guy next to me saying out loud, “This guy is sick!”. Then came the pitch to Casey. What a curveball. How delightful to go back on to Dodger thoughts and see Jon’s short-lived Youtube excerpt of it. 
    After the game, I was walking to the practice field and who would walk by but the man himself. Someone asked him how he felt out there, he said, “It felt pretty good”. He signed some autographs: Picture here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25123490@N07/

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IO5EW7SE7W6TOOSMK5PHVIJJX4 John

    It’s amazing how much he has changed as a pitcher since then. The curve still comes out from time-to-time, but it isn’t the giggle-inducing weapon we all thought it would be. The fastball isn’t that 97 we were hoping to see. The changeup seems to still be a work in progress.

    My dad and I caught him in the last year in Florida. We were lucky to see him pitch a meaningless inning vs the Astros in Kissimmee. He didn’t have a bad inning, but it wasn’t perfect either (maybe a couple of walks, or a walk and a single, something like that). I remember seeing him come off the field furious at himself and I was so happy about that, that this kid cared so much about some worthless inning against the Stros. He wasn’t a spoiled brat cruising through on his talent. He wanted to be better.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZAO5BS2RGGI7MHWTMVG37UGN64 Champ Kind

    I know it was sort of silly flick, and a lot of time is given to bowing down to the McCourts, but one of the greatest parts of that True Blue Movie (aside from your cameo Jon) was watching Kershaw catch up with his family and friends after his first start. He was such a young, goofy, incredibly talented kid. I loved his very succinct assessment of the game vs. St Louis “uhh, Pujols is good!”. LOL. He’s still young, but he’s got some miles under him now. Fun stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Part of the beauty of this outing was Vin Scully’s reaction to Kershaw’s pitching.  It is not evident in the clip, but Vin had been talking about Roy Campanella’s catching and how Campy used to refer to the curveball (maybe a particular pitcher’s curveball) as “public enemy number one.”  And then, as if on cue, the artist and his subject met perfectly as Kershaw broke off that devastating curveball and Vinny called it, with a guffaw, “public enemy number one.”

    As I watch some of this spring’s games, mostly without Vin (and listening to things like Steve Lyons saying that Andre Ethier’s defense is good enough that one day he might win a Gold Glove, or the Brewers announces tell us that Casey Blake did a lot of the clean-up hitting for the Dodgers last year, the Cubs broadcasters telling us that Juan Uribe had a great year last year with 24 HR, or even the relatively knowledgeable Indians broadcasters barely mention the game going on–there truly is no play-by-play, so don’t you dare take your eyes off the TV!), I am certain that Kershaw would have developed into the pitcher that he is now.  His fastball does not usually touch 97, but you can’t expect that when throwing 200+ innings; his slider is his more frequent–and devastating–breaking pitch; and he reaks off public enemy number one infrequently, which is for good reason but sad because watching that pitch is a whole lot of fun.  But I am convinced that without Vin Scully there to call of Kershaw’s Grapefruit League debut, Kershaw would not have rocketed to such popularity so soon, and been so closely watched.  But Vinny’s vivid call of that inning made people realize that we were seeing something truly special (it’s certainly what motivated me to buy a last-minute ticket to Kershaw’s MLB debut when he was called up in May).

    All of which makes me wonder why MLB is so incredibly stingy with its audio and video archives.  I would happily pay to buy or stream all sorts of prior clips or games of moments past.

    Of course, I would rather listen to Vin Scully on the radio than watch the same game on TV called by anyone else.

  • Anonymous

    I was fortunate enough to be at that game myself…my one and only trip to Vero Beach. It’s not often, if ever, that I remember any specific pitch that I’ve seen in person, but I’ll never forget this one. Sitting on the grass beyond the right field fence, everybody that saw this one was awestruck.