Major League Baseball’s contingent of executives and players touched down in Havana, Cuba on Tuesday, marking the league’s first trip to the island since 1999.
Part of the historical significance includes the opportunity for multiple Cuban natives to return to their homeland for the first time since their respective defections.
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig is part of that group, along with Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, and St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena.
Puig fled for Mexico in 2012 in the first stage of his now-infamous journey to stardom in the United States.
Also participating in MLB’s goodwill tour to Cuba are Puig’s teammate Clayton Kershaw, Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, Seattle Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz and San Diego Padres center fielder Jon Jay.
Upon landing, the group of players were taken to Hotel Nacional, where Puig attempted to put the surreal experience into words, via Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com:
“It’s very emotional to go back to my country, and for them to give me the opportunity to return to my country,” said Puig, who defected in 2012. “We’re very excited, especially those of us who are from there. It’s going to have a huge impact, to be out there, helping out the kids. That’s why we’re so happy to go back there, to help out the kids as much as we can.”
As for Kershaw, who’s no stranger to charity work, he views the tour as opportunity to better understand his Cuban teammates, according to Kevin Baxter of the LA Times:
“It’s cool to be a part of that and see it,” said Kershaw, who sounded as if a new relationship with Puig, a teammate with whom he has reportedly feuded, could be on the horizon as well. “For me it’s just important to see where people come from. I got to go to the Dominican last year and that was so good for me because I got to know my teammates better, understand how they grew up and what it was like and what baseball means to their culture. Same thing here. I have a lot of Cuban teammates, I know what it’s like a little bit.”
The tour began with a news conference on Tuesday, with children’s clinics scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday; one in Havana and the other in Matanzas.
A charity event in conjunction with Caritas Cubana, a U.S.-based nongovernmental provider of humanitarian, social and emergency services to Cuba, is also on the docket.