Back in December, the Tampa Bay Rays won a lottery between the other teams expressing interest in making a trip to travel to Cuba where they would play the Cuban National Team. After months of getting all the details sorted and the trip finalized, confirmation finally arrived on Tuesday afternoon when Major League Baseball made the announcement that the team will be headed to Cuba.
“The Rays are extremely proud to represent Major League Baseball on a trip that will be so memorable and significant for two countries that revere our great sport,” said Ray’s owner Stu Sternberg via a video and in a release from Major League Baseball. “Our franchise will be privileged to visit Cuba, to share the field with its National Team and to embody the goodwill of our game.”
The Rays will visit Cuba from March 20 to 22 and play the Cuban National team on the final day at Havana’s historic Estadio Latinoamericano. The trip by the Rays is the first to visit Cuba by any MLB franchise since 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game against the Cuban National team. Along with the Rays, and in attendance for the game will be President Obama who becomes the first sitting President to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
“Having the President attend the game adds a great dimension to the trip and it’s going to shine an even greater spotlight on the event and on Major League Baseball,” Ray’s president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said.
The Rays will charter two planes and fly out of Tampa on March 20 to take the traditional traveling party for a road trip, members of the front office, some special guests and as well a small number of media that cover the team on a daily basis.
On March 21, the Rays will conduct a clinic before their scheduled game against the Cuban National team set for March 22 at 3 p.m. and televised live on ESPN.
Specific details are still being ironed out, but speculation is that the Rays will take between 28 and 30 players and they are not limited to just those on the 40-man roster. Among those who will be considered for the trip is non-roster outfielder Dayron Varona, who was born in Havana, Cuba.
“It’s a special situation for him [Varona], and we’re going to talk to him about his desires and factor them into the plans as they come into focus,” Silverman said.
Chris Archer, the team’s union player rep added that the Rays are “extremely excited as a group” to be a part of the trip to Cuba that Major League Baseball announced Tuesday afternoon. Archer said the trip is voluntary for the players, though those who travel will receive $10,000.
“In a sense, we’re part of something that’s extremely historic for both countries and looking to mingle and experience the culture of a place where we haven’t been able to travel freely for a while,” said Archer.
“During a time of historic change, we appreciate the constructive role afforded by our shared passion for the game, and we look forward to experiencing Cuba’s storied baseball tradition and the passion of its many loyal fans,” Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred said in a statement.
“Given our geographical location and given Cuba’s rich history here in the Tampa Bay area, it was a no-brainer,” Sternberg said. “It happened by lottery, but it was a no-brainer for us to want to go. Quite frankly, I think we’re the best suited for it.”