Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has long felt a connection to the Dominican Republic. "It's obviously a significant place for baseball," says the three-time Cy Young winner, noting that several teammates have hailed from the country. When Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, learned of the rampant child trafficking in the DR, they looked for ways to help. In February, the Kershaws-along with former major leaguer Adam LaRoche-traveled to Santo Domingo to meet with the International Justice Mission (IJM), a faith-based organization that fights slavery and sex trafficking, particularly child exploitation. The group met with Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina, visited the city's red-light district with investigators and spent an afternoon playing baseball with survivors of sex trafficking. "They looked and acted like any other kids," Kershaw says. "But what they had been through was anything but normal." In 2017, IJM helped Dominican authorities convict a man who exploited six boys. Four of them would take the field in Kershaw's game. "It was amazing to watch them come to life," he says. "To hear the horror they have lived through and to see their resilient spirit put everything in perspective."
Kershaw and Adam LaRoche went undercover in Boca Chica, an area known as a hotbed for prostitution in Santo Domingo. Investigators explained how they work with local authorities to find and free victims-and to arrest the perpetrators. "If I didn't have that knowledge going in, I would have wondered, 'Why can't we just get these girls out of here?'" Kershaw says. "You have to uproot the [traffickers]. That's how you effect change."
According to the United Nations, 40 million people live in some form of slavery, including victims of sex trafficking, 1 in 4 of whom are children. Kershaw spent an afternoon playing catch with survivors and sharing stories. "To hear what they've been through is heartbreaking," he says.
"Talking about sex trafficking is not comfortable," Kershaw says. "That's part of the reason to get the word out about it, because exposing it will bring people out of the darkness. The more people who know about it, the less likely that it will continue to be such a widespread problem."
Rain didn't deter the survivors-who ranged in age from 9 to 14-from a game at Manny Mota's Campo de Suenos stadium. LaRoche hit fly balls to outfielders, while Kershaw shagged fouls and shouted encouragement.
Kershaw provided pitching tips in halting Spanish, but his message got through. "Baseball is a universal language here," he says. "It was awesome to see them just being kids and having fun."
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's (April World Fame 100) Issue. Subscribe today!