Major League Baseball crossed a significant barrier this week by holding a three-day goodwill tour in Cuba.
On top of it being the league’s first visit to the island since 1999, a handful of Cuban natives who defected were part of the trip.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ ties to the tour included teammates Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig. For Puig, it was his first time to Cuba since defecting in 2012.
The tour presented an opportunity for Puig and fellow Cubans Jose Abreu, Brayan Pena and Alexei Ramirez to reunite and visit with loved ones they left behind in hopes of realizing their dream to play professionally in the United States.
Kershaw has visited several countries and is heavily involved in providing aid through his charity, Kershaw’s Challenge. The Dodgers ace discussed what he learned in visiting Cuba, via Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com:
“It kind of put it in perspective, how important baseball is here,” Kershaw said. “Just the passion that the Cuban people have for baseball, and then maybe the significance of this trip, too. … They keep saying, ‘Baseball’s the way of life,’ but you don’t really know what that means,” Kershaw said. “Then you come here and you kind of understand. It’s so important, and it’s so new, too, this whole trip and what the people here can experience and what we as players can do. It’s just such new territory for us. I think the excitement of being here is infectious.”
Kershaw also commented on the motivation he has to provide for those who wish to play baseball:
“That’s why I love to come,” Kershaw said. “The kids are what drive me to want to do this stuff, just because I want them to have an opportunity to play baseball. I want them to have any opportunity they want. That’s tough to do. But just for one day, at least, they can come, smile and have fun. If I can make a kid smile playing baseball, that’s pretty awesome. Especially here.”
While Kershaw’s schedule included participating in two clinics, he also found time to get some of his offseason workout program completed. MLB’s tour concluded on Thursday.