Clayton Kershaw never doubted Cuba's passion for baseball. But then he had never truly experienced it until Thursday, when a crowd of several dozen sat through a 2 1/2-hour children's clinic, then waited another 30 minutes under a blazing sun just to watch Kershaw play catch.
"They love baseball," the Dodgers' three-time Cy Young Award winner said with a grin.
Major League Baseball's three-day goodwill visit to Cuba moved to Matanzas, about 60 miles east of Havana, for its final public event Thursday. And that was fitting, because the city is hallowed ground, the site of both the first organized game in the island's history as well as the birth of Martin Dihigo, the only man enshrined in five separate halls of fame and considered by many to be the greatest player of all time.
So it was an honor that Kershaw was chosen to open the clinic by addressing the 150 youth players, their parents and a few thousand others who filed into Estadio Victoria de Giron to see the clinic's eight instructors, who were taking part in MLB's first visit to Cuba in 16 years.
Kershaw had the help of an interpreter in his welcoming remarks but as he put dozens of young pitchers through their paces, he shouted out commands in Spanish. A few dozen yards away Dodgers teammate Yasiel Puig and the Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera taught hitting.
Kershaw and Puig reportedly have a strained relationship after former major leaguer Andy Van Slyke, the father of Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke, told a St. Louis radio station that the pitcher asked for Puig to be traded.
Kershaw politely declined to talk about that here, as did Puig, who also didn't want to talk about a domestic violence investigation in Miami and his weight, which was a problem last season.
However a friend said Puig, who is working out regularly with Cabrera in South Florida, is aware of the trade demand and wants to remain with the Dodgers. As for the police investigation, that is likely to be dropped, the friend said.
Kershaw, who throws four times a week in December to prepare for spring training, tossed his Dodgers cap into the stands and handed his gray Dodgers jersey to a woman in the first row before walking to the outfield for a 15-minute long-toss session with Cuban catcher Roberto Loredo.
Kershaw then joined Joe Torre, his former manager, and Seattle Mariners outfielder Nelson Cruz on a visit to Havana's Parque Central and the famed esquina caliente -- or hot corner -- where dozens of fans gather year-round to debate and argue over baseball.