By GRIFFIN GUINTA
In a historic trip, the Tampa Bay Rays traveled to Estadio Latinoamericano this past Tuesday to take on the Cuban National Team; the first MLB game to take place in Cuba since the Baltimore Orioles’ visit in 1999. The Rays cruised to a 4-1 victory behind six dominant innings from starting pitcher Matt Moore, though the game was about much more than baseball. Last December, the United States began to thaw decades of tension with Cuba by officially restoring relations and establishing an embassy in Havana. Travel restrictions have yet to be fully lifted and a 54 year Embargo still remains in tact, but the atmosphere at the game showed signs of hope.
Before the game, each player walked onto the field holding the hand of a Cuban child, and each country’s national anthem was sung to raucous applause. Between innings, President Barack Obama could be seen sharing a laugh with Cuban leader Raul Castro, an uplifting sign after a tense news conference held between Obama and Castro prior to the game. Accompanying the President was the first lady Michelle Obama, Sasha and Malia Obama, and Rachel Robinson, widow of Jackie Robinson. Of historical significance, Robinson visited Cuba in 1947 and became a wild hit there after breaking baseball’s color barrier in the United States.
The biggest story on the field, however, was Rays outfielder Dayron Varona. Varona was reunited with his family for the first time after defecting from Cuba three years ago. A former Cuban national team star, Varona started in right field and played three innings for the Rays.
Said Varona in an interview with USA Today: “I still can’t believe it. Since I left, I haven’t heard that joy that Cuban people have.”