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Clayton Kershaw reported to spring training Thursday, a day late because a small pipe burst in the back of his Dallas house after a winter storm recently ravaged Texas, as a World Series champion for the first time.
Over the next few days, as the rest of the team joins the pitchers and catchers, he anticipates the team will spend some time commemorating the feat after the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow for a proper celebration. The focus will then turn to 2021 and winning the World Series again.
“The expectation is to win a World Series and so we have to remember that it doesn't matter that we won last year,” Kershaw said in a video conference with reporters Sunday. “But at the same time remember that our team has a chance to be really special again. And we can't take that for granted.”
Major League Baseball hasn’t had a team repeat as champion since 2000. The endless variables render the feat improbable. World Series hangovers are one of them.
The Dodgers didn’t win the 2017 World Series, but they went to seven games against the Houston Astros and the effects of the crushing defeat trickled into the 2018 season.
That team started the year 16-26. They didn’t climb over .500 until they finished June 8 with a 32-31 record. The slow start forced them to play catch up in the standings and a 163rd game against the Colorado Rockies to decide the National League West title. They won that game and went on to lose in the World Series again.
But three years later, after winning the franchise’s first championship since 1988, the Dodgers don’t sense a hangover looming because of the unique circumstances the pandemic presented.
“I think it's kind of natural that it has to feel a little bit different,” right-hander Walker Buehler said. “But I talked to somebody about it the other day where last year, the 60 games, and all the stuff going on in the world, we really didn't have that big kind of parade, celebration, kind of deal, so in some ways you feel like we kind of half won the thing.”
The Dodgers, in short, might be more motivated to win another World Series than previous champions.
“We want to do it again to ultimately enjoy all the fruits of winning a championship and I think understanding the situation, what the climate was last year, we couldn't,” Manager Dave Roberts said. “But that's something that's a carrot out there for all of us to understand, number one, we have a lot of work to do. Long way to go.”
That’s not to say the Dodgers didn’t enjoy winning it all. Kershaw, long haunted by October downfalls, perhaps reveled in the victory more than anyone.
Kershaw on Sunday reiterated that he enjoyed having the burden of failure lifted during the offseason. He remained motivated in his preparation for the season but the source for the impetus was different. He wasn’t fueled by failure. It was positive.
“It's like, 'I want to get ready and be at my best for this team because we're really good, we have a chance to win, I don't want to squander that,’” Kershaw said.
Kershaw, who turns 33 next month, posted a 2.43 earned-run average over 89 innings in 15 starts between the regular season and playoffs. He remains one of the top pitchers in the majors as he enters the final year of his contract. He insisted he doesn’t see himself retiring after the season and is open to discussing a contract extension with the Dodgers.
“I have no intentions of hanging ‘em up,” said Kershaw, who threw his first bullpen session of spring training Friday. “I'm only 32. …I feel like I have a few more years left in the tank. If you ask me right now, I really still love playing. I feel healthy right now.”
Now the goal is to win another championship in eight months, to have the opportunity to celebrate a title the way he’s always imagined.
“I just feel really fortunate that I've gotten to have as many opportunities as I've had to win a World Series,” Kershaw said. “And now that we finally won one, you just don't take that for granted.”
Stan Williams dies
Former Dodgers pitcher Stan Williams died Saturday at age 84 after battling a cardio-pulmonary illness, according to a Dodgers spokesman. Williams had been hospitalized Feb. 11 and was under hospice care.
A right-handed pitcher, Williams was a Dodger for the franchise’s first five seasons in Los Angeles, a member of the 1959 World Series team, and a two-time All-Star in Los Angeles before he was traded to the New York Yankees after the 1962 season.
Williams played 14 seasons for six teams, finishing his career with a 3.48 ERA in 482 games (208 starts). He then spent another 14 seasons as a major league pitching coach for five teams.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.