LOS ANGELES – Cocktail in-hand, a stylish Matt Kemp laughs on as his manager, Dave Roberts, lunges for a rogue ping pong ball. A few feet away, Chase Utley poses on a fat tire scooter, while Rich Hill races his son in the outfield.
You wouldn’t have known that the team just got swept and was presently out of a playoff spot, because Thursday night’s Ping Pong 4 Purpose fundraising tournament was about anything but baseball. It was about family, friendship, charity, and showing up for team rock Clayton Kershaw.
“I think it’s extremely important to support your teammates in whatever cause,” Utley, in his final season of MLB play, told Yahoo Sports. “I think we all know what type of talent [Clayton] is, as far as a baseball player, but the type of guy he is – he’s a hard worker, he prepares well, and for young guys coming up, he’s a great person to look up to if they want to succeed at this level.”
Kershaw is commonly regarded as the best pitcher of his generation – perhaps one of the best of all-time. But in 2018, he’s struggled again with staying healthy, leading to a down year by his standards. Throughout it all, however, he’s maintained his standards as a character-first player, inspiring his teammates from on the field and off.
“He leads by example,” said starter Rich Hill. “I think one of the biggest things is when you see a guy like that in the weight room, and sticking to a very rigorous routine, it’s something that everybody can see, and draw from, and put into their own career and daily routine as well.”
And as for the biggest question of the night, Kershaw’s ping pong skills? “They’re just as good as his pitching skills,” Hill said. So good, that new teammate Manny Machado – who donned a Michael Jordan Tune Squad jersey – was “nervous” to go out and play.
Hundreds of guests, many of them of the A-list celebrity variety, showed up to walk the “blue carpet” with their wallets and hearts open, antsy to get competitive and give away some cash. For players, the night provided a mental break from the grind of a 162-game season.
The team was swept at the hands of the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals just 24 hours earlier, and instead of spending their precious off-day recovering at home with their families, players came back to their place of work.
“Off days are great. Each and every off day – you only get about 20 of them – but the opportunity to use an off day to raise a lot of money and impact a lot of people’s lives and interact with a lot of people you’ve never met, have some drinks, and play some ping pong … it doesn’t really get any better than that, huh?” said recently-acquired infielder Brian Dozier.
As Dozier said, this was not the time to get stingy with money; it was no secret those A-list celebs were there to shell out. One of Clayton and Ellen’s goals was to amass 20, $6,300 donations, the amount of money it takes to rescue 20 children from sex trafficking. After the goal was announced, players and celebrities alike made a bee-line for the donation table.
The duo also chose to honor Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey and his wife Camila, who run the Just Keep Livin’ foundation, which funds youth health and wellness programs in low-income schools.
“Any time you can team up, it just makes it better and that much more fun,” said McConaughey. “I know some people that have their charities or foundations, and they don’t want to partner with anybody. I’ve never understood that. I’m like ‘man, if you can partner up, let’s get the more the merrier.'”
But given that the star-studded tournament literally took place on the dirt infield wherein the team fell on such tough times a day prior, it was hard to totally ignore the elephant in the stadium.
Said emcee Bryan Cranston after soliciting donations: “Now go beat the Padres tomorrow, will you?”
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