CLAYTON KERSHAW PICKED me up at my hotel at 6:30 a.m., exactly on time, which is less about making a good impression and more about the rigor with which he orders his life. He's never late. A few minutes ago, he'd slipped out of a quiet house, leaving behind his wife, Ellen, and their three children, all safe and asleep in the dark. His oldest is about to start school. His youngest, Cooper, turned 2 months old today. His next baseball season begins in 14 days.
"It really does go by fast," he said.
He turned southwest on Thunderbird Trail, passing huge estates hidden by gates and elaborate shrubbery. Only the gardeners were awake and working. A local Phoenix country station played on the radio. The rain started to fall a little harder, the sky dark on the horizon. The Dodgers' spring training clubhouse was half an hour away. Kershaw drove and laughed and told stories. His first year in the league, he said, his understanding of the unhinged nature of road fans hadn't yet been fully developed. Ignoring the advice of veterans, he checked into a hotel using his real name. People called his room all night before a scheduled start, so he had to unplug the hotel phone. Lesson learned. Now he uses character names from television shows. Usually an alias a year. One season he was Jim Halpert. For several he was Walter White. He's a veteran now.
He asked if I wanted a coffee and then hit a few buttons on his phone. Minutes later, we wheeled into the parking lot of a Starbucks — a Nissan truck slowed to let us cut — and our coffees were hot and waiting. A precise operation.