In only the second time since 1959, a Major League Baseball team competed in a game in Cuba. This team was local to Saint Leo, the Tampa Bay Rays. Playing on Tuesday, March 22, the Rays beat the Cuban National Team 4-1 in Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano.
The game was attended by dignitaries from both countries, including Cuban President Raul Castro, as well as the First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama. This also marks the first time a sitting president has visited the small, island nation just 90 miles away from the Florida Keys since the 1928 visit by Calvin Coolidge.
Talking to ESPN.com, President Obama discussed the historic impact that both his visit and this game has.
“That’s what this visit is about: remembering what we share, reflecting upon the barriers we’ve broken — as people and as nations — and looking toward a better future. Because while I will not ignore the important differences between our governments, I came to Cuba to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” said President Obama.
It was not only an important return to diplomacy for two countries, but also a return home for Dayron Varona, a Cuban native who defected three years ago, and who signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays organization last year.
Varona was the first batter of the game, making contact on the first pitch for a sharply hit ground ball for an out. While he may not have performed on the field, Varona’s appearance at the game was groundbreaking on a different level, being a defector generally meant leaving friends and family behind, never to return.
Overall, the Rays were commended for their willingness to be a part of this historic event. Star pitcher Chris Archer was very active in the pre-game ceremonies, joining the team in shaking President Obama’s hand, and also delivering a glove to the President as well. Noting how passionate the first family was about baseball, Archer spoke with Sports net’s Faizal Khamisa about meeting them. While President Obama, a noted Chicago White Sox fan was not totally aware of him, First Lady Michelle Obama was, and he noted “I shook the first lady’s hand, SHE was telling him who I was.”
Archer also spoke with MLB.com, saying “I met the president and the first lady [Michelle Obama], and the first question I had for the first lady was why she didn’t respond to me on Twitter. Apparently, they don’t look at it as much as we do. It was awesome. [President Obama] complimented me not only on my ability but the way I carry myself and the way I speak. Coming from him, there’s really no higher compliment.”
This was a huge day for the Rays organization, as it was nationally televised on ESPN, which helps raise awareness of the team and the talent that it has. The commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, was especially proud of this moment.
“They embraced this and were great ambassadors for our game,” Manfred told MLB.com.
In what was considered a major success, Tampa Bay Rays helped diplomacy in Cuba, and with how popular this event was, may bring further games to that country, fostering peace between two nations.