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Tampa Bay Rays in Havana, Cuba

Tampa Bay Rays played in Havana, Cuba

Reporters:  Juan J. Lopez and Ricardo J. Lopez


With the new diplomatic relations announced between the United States and Cuba, several actions have taken place to promote travel and communication between American people and the Cuban people. On August 17th, 2015 the AmIMG_1466erican Embassy was opened in Cuba and a United States flag was hoisted above by the same marines that were present when the embassy was closed in 1961.  Historical events are in the making as more time passes on. The most recent historical event occurred on March 22nd, 2016, when the Tampa Bay Rays flew to Cuba and played an exhibition game against the Cuban National Baseball Team, which was televised live around the world on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. Not only was this an event in itself, but among the 55,000 plus in attendance were the special guests sitting in the seats behind home plate, President Raul Castro and President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters. President Obama was the first sitting American President to visit Cuba in 88 years, and just before attending the baseball game, he addressed the nation by giving a speech at the Gran Teatro in Havana. This speech was directed toward the Cuban people, which was broadcast live around the county on the Cuban state television network. In his speech, President Obama spoke on American Ideals, promoted small business entrepreneurship, and conveyed the message of reconciliation by putting the past in the past and attempting to move forward for a new relationship and future. When the speech concluded, the roads were closed as both presidents travelled by motorcade to the Estadio Latinoamericano baseball stadium.

 

The game had a scheduled start of 2:00pm, but all attendees had to be in the stadium by 11:30am. Getting to the Stadium was difficult but fairly organized. Streets were blocked by police for several blocks out to allow only buses to enter the closed off area near the stadium. Security was visible but not overwhelming. There were thousandIMG_1467s of people from both the US and Cuba hoping to get into the “invitation only” game as tickets were not sold.

 

Some American visitors walked in the streets without a ticket, hoping to scalp one outside the stadium. One man was overheard willing to pay $500 USD for a ticket, however there were no such scalpers and some Americans were upset that with Dollars, they couldn’t buy their way into the game. Just like the American’s attendees were invited in the US, the Cubans attendees were also invited and selected through their work centers. Entering the stadium, one thing noticed about the ticket was that there was no seat number on it, it only had a section.

 

Attendees flocked into the stadium, found their section and filled in the seats where ever they could. While waiting for the opening ceremonies to start, Latin music played over the sound system, players warmed up on the field, and fans danced and cheered them on. Closer to 2:00pm, the music went silent and the entire stadium stood on their feet as there was activity behind home plate for the entry of the presidents. Fans stood on their chairs and held cameras and cellphones in the air waiting to capture the moment. As Obama was seen entering the seating area, the crowd erupted with cheers and applause. After the National Anthems of Cuba and the United States were played, thousands of doves were released from the centerfield wall at the admiration of all in attendance.IMG_1468

 

Each player from both teams were escorted into the field by a child. After the introduction of players, each of the Tampa Bay Rays player approached the stands behind home plate to shake hands with the president of the United States and delivered flowers to the First Lady and daughters of the president. As the game started, there was an excitement in the air with the full stadium. The game started just like any other game in the US, with the Cubans chanting, “Cuba, Cuba, Cuba”. There were no “USA” chants heard. The stands were filled with children, parents, couples, elders all dressed like one normally would dress to a baseball game in the US. Some of the Cubans came to the game prepared with their bags of homemade food, snacks and drinks and were observed sharing their food with US attendees sitting next to them.

 

Tampa Bay Rays Pitcher Matt Moore pitched six scoreless innings, giving up six hits and one walk while striking out three. James Loney hit an RBI single in the 2nd inning to put the Rays up 1-0, and then a two-run homerun in the 4th inning to put the Rays up 3-0. In the top of the 7th inning, the Rays scored another run on an RBI single by Steve Pearce. Amazingly, a lot of the crowd was applauding, Cuban and US fans alike.   The game continued and Cuban player Rudy Reyes hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th inning. The crowd went wild but friendly with chants of, “Cuba, Cuba, Cuba!” The crowd regained their enthusiasm even though they were down by 3. On the final out of the game, the score read Tampa Bay Rays 4, and Cuba National 1.  At the end of the game, both team lined up to shake hand but instead of shaking hands, each of the players took their jerseys off and exchanged them with their counterpart player out in the middle of the infield.

 

It was a truly historical event seeing the President of the United States seating next to Raul Castro watching a baseball game in the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, Cuba. 

The night before the game, Major League Baseball (Tampa Bay Ray) along with the Cuban Baseball Federation, hosted a reception in honor the two teams playing.  In attendance, were celebrities and governmental officials from both Countries, including Secretary of State, John Kerry and Anthony Castro, Vice President of Cuba’s International Baseball Federation and son of Fidel Castro.  The attendees were entertained by the surprised appearance of Jimmy Buffet, who startled everyone with his signature song “Margaritaville”.   The end of the game came without any observed political discussions, without any arguments, without any drunkenness, without violence; Just with people loving the game of baseball between two rivals.

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