President Obama expected to attend Rays-Cuba exhibition game,play
President Obama expected to attend Rays-Cuba exhibition game
9:35 PM ET ESPN.com news services
Rays will travel to Cuba to play the Cuban National Team in an
exhibition game on March 22, and U.S. President Barack Obama is expected
to be in attendance.
“Americans and Cubans share a love of baseball, and this is yet another
powerful reminder of the kinship between our peoples as well as the
progress we can achieve when we leverage those natural ties,” a White
House official said Tuesday.
The announcement of the president’s planned attendance was first made on
SportsCenter. The game will be televised on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
SportsCenter and Outside the Lines begin live coverage March 20 of the
Rays’ trip to Havana.
Major League Baseball and the MLBPA officially announced the exhibition
in a release earlier Tuesday evening. It will be the first visit to Cuba
by an MLB team since the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game
there against the Cuban National Team in 1999.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said in the release that his team was
“privileged” to visit the country on what would be a “memorable and
significant” trip, a sentiment echoed by league commissioner Rob Manfred.
“Major League Baseball is excited to play in Cuba and to have the Tampa
Bay Rays representing our 30 Clubs,” Manfred said. “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.”
Manfred drew the Rays on Nov. 13 from a bin of teams that wanted to make
the trip. U.S. teams played spring training games in Cuba before Fidel
Castro’s revolution, but none appeared there from March 1959 until the
Orioles faced Cuba’s national team in Havana in March 1999.
“We’re extremely excited as a group to be a part of this process,” Rays
pitcher Chris Archer said. “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.”
Hundreds of workers on Tuesday were at the Latin America Stadium, built
in 1946 and said to have a seating capacity of 55,000. They are fixing
the roof, repairing damaged seating areas and grooming the field surface.
Workers with jackhammers broke up damaged pavement outside, and painters
brightened the stadium exterior.
“We’re excited to be part of this trip. For us, it’s about spreading
goodwill through baseball,” Matt Silverman, the Rays’ president of
baseball operations, said on a conference call. “We’re excited for the
opportunity and to experience firsthand the baseball culture of Cuba.
“Logistically, there will be some challenges. But the players’
association and Major League Baseball worked hard to minimize the
disruptions. Our first priority is getting ready for opening day. And we
worked hard to make sure that this trip won’t interfere much, if at all,
with those preparations.”
Fewer than 40 players will make the trip, but the Rays have yet to have
in-depth discussions about the composition of the roster, Silverman said.
“We’ve been working with Major League Baseball and the State Department
to figure out the visas and the exact size. It hasn’t been finalized
yet,” he said. “It’ll be a traditional traveling baseball party, and
then a number of our front office will also be attending. There will be
a few special guests. But the contingent won’t be that large. It can’t
be larger than the two planes we’re going to take down there.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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