Amid rumors that Clayton Kershaw has had his share of differences with Cuban teammate Yasiel Puig, the Los Angeles Dodgers ace touched down in Cuba on Tuesday hoping to better understand Puig and the rest of his Cuban teammates.
Kershaw was part of fleet of MLB representatives, including Puig and other Cuban defectors, who began a three-day goodwill mission in Cuba on Tuesday, the first that has been scheduled to the island country since diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba re-opened a year ago.
"I think for me, just understanding the culture a little bit more. It’s so important," Kershaw replied when asked by ESPN what he thought baseball could gain from the trip. "I have, obviously, a lot of teammates who are Cuban, so just for me to understand what they’ve been through, some of the hardships that they’ve gone through, understanding how they grew up."
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In addition to Puig, catcher Yasmani Grandal and outfielder Alex Guerrero were born in Cuba, and the Dodgers continue to be a prominent player in the market for Cuban prospects, as four of their top 30 prospects, per MLB.com, are Cuban-born players.
Yasiel Puig smiles as he arrives in Cuba on Tuesday.
With Cuba allowing the return of Puig and defectors such as White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and free agent Alexei Ramirez without the fear of sanction, the players were able to see many close friends and family members they hadn’t seen since they defected.
"I’m very happy to be here," said Puig.
If indeed there has been tension between Kershaw and Puig over the years, the trip might serve as an occasion for the two to bury the hatchet.
Yasiel Puig hugs his former coach Juan Arechavaleta as he arrives to Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba on Tuesday.
"I think it can only give me a little credibility with [the Cuban ballplayers]," Kershaw told ESPN. "For me, personally, to understand what they went through and how baseball’s run here. … All that different stuff, it can only help."