Wiedmer: Kershaw's rehab helps more than himself

Wiedmer: Kershaw's rehab helps more than himself

May 1st, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

A sellout crowd begins entering the gates at 6 p.m. to see Clayton Kershaw pitch for the Lookouts against the Smokies at AT&T Field.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw struck out nine in a rehab appearance for the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw struck out...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Clayton Kershaw (22) starts for the Chattanooga Lookouts Thursday against the Smokies.

Clayton Kershaw (22) starts for the Chattanooga Lookouts...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

An official Los Angeles Dodgers cap atop his head, a pricey Dodgers jacket covering his torso, Sergio Ruelas left his Marietta, Ga., home at 4:45 Wednesday afternoon bound for our town's AT&T Field.

"I've been a Dodgers fan all my life," he said upon making his way through the gates a shade after 6:30. "I was born in 1981, Fernando [Valenzuela] Mania. When this opportunity came up to watch [Clayton] Kershaw pitch, I couldn't pass it up."

Ruelas was far from alone in his quest to watch the lanky lefty who's won two of the last three National League Cy Young Awards complete a second rehab assignment before returning to the big leagues next week. At least 6,317 other baseball fans couldn't pass up the same chance.

"Oh, my, it's been a long time since I've seen anything like this," said a smiling Wanda Goins, who's sold 25-cent game programs at Lookouts games for the past 27 years. "But I like to be busy."

Twelve-year-old Davis McBryer was expected to be busy with his McCallie School homework Wednesday evening when his mother informed him at mid-afternoon he'd be attending the game with Corbin Morrison and Andrew Edwards.

Wearing the gray No. 22 Dodgers road jersey he got for his 11th birthday, McBryer has been a big Kershaw fan for years.

"I just like the way he pitches," he said. "But I'm really just a big Dodgers fan. I guess I've been one since I was 6 or 7."

And like most fans, especially those still young enough to do homework, McBryer was hopeful of leaving the stadium with more than a visual memory of his hero's 2014 outing in the Scenic City.

"I've got a permanent ink pen," he said. "I'd love him to write something on my cap."

Samantha Lynn showed up in a blue Kershaw jersey, at least partly because her mother, Kathy, is from L.A.

"We're really big Dodgers fans," she said. "When I found out he was pitching, I had to be here."

Kershaw didn't initially believe he needed to be here after last week's five-inning rehab assignment with the Dodgers' Class A affiliate at Rancho Cucamonga.

But after striking out nine, averaging over 90 mph on his 86 pitches and allowing one earned run in five innings of work against the Tennessee Smokies, the Dallas native said of his one game in a Lookouts uni, "I had a good time. Hopefully, I'll never have to come back, but it was fun."

He made sure to make it fun for his extended family and friends, however. Because his wife's family is from Brentwood, Tenn., and a couple of his buddies were "taking a real estate exam here this week," Kershaw requested 10 tickets from the Lookouts front office a couple of days ago.

"At first we thought it might be some guy from Hixson pretending to be him," said outgoing Lookouts owner Frank Burke. "But then he got to the ballpark and asked where he could find Rebecca [Ramos, director of ticketing]. Pretty neat."

It was also pretty neat that Kershaw agreed to stick around and sign autographs afterward, a sure sign that his ailing back muscles are completely healed.

Yet whatever Kershaw's five innings did to hasten his return to the big leagues, it arguably did much more for the Lookouts organization.

"I guess the last time we had a crowd like this was our Used Car Night, maybe 2011," Burke said. "This was a wonderfully nice gift from the Dodgers."

It was, indeed. And not just for the Lookouts' bank account.

As he headed to his seat early Wednesday evening, Marietta's Ruelas glanced across the Chattanooga skyline, to the Tennessee River, the Aquarium and the North Shore beyond.

"It's so beautiful here," he said. "I love this area."

He paused, then smiled, saying, "Man, $5 to come watch Kershaw pitch. This is awesome."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com