The day after a landmark meeting in Cuba between United States President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, the Tampa Bay Rays will take on the Cuba national baseball team in an exhibition game that will stream live from Havana, Cuba — the first game between a Major League Baseball team and a Cuba squad since Obama moved to open relations with Cuba for the first time since that country’s revolution in 1962.
The Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cuba game Tuesday, however, will not be the first game between a Cuban team and a Major League team since the Fidel Castro regime took power. The Baltimore Orioles played a game against a team of Cuba All-Stars in 1999, at the same Estadio Latinoamericano where Tampa Bay and the Cuba national team will play their historic game on Tuesday.
Obama is expected to be in the stands for the game, along with a crowd of fans who will be admitted by invitation only — invitations that will go out from the The National Institute of Sport, Physical Education, and Recreation, the arm of the Castro government in Cuba that governs all sports and recreational activities in the small island country, about 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
— Hugo Balta (@HugoBalta) March 20, 2016
The Tampa Bay Rays’ trip to Hanava has already produced at least one memorable moment, when Rays minor league outfielder Dayron Varona (pictured above) — who defected from Cuba about three years ago to pursue a dream of a professional baseball career in the United States — was reunited with the family members he left behind and has not seen since he left his home country.
Watch a video of Dayron Varona reuniting with his family in the video below.
To find out how to watch a live stream of the Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cuba National Team exhibition baseball game, see the streaming links in the final paragraph of this article. First pitch at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, Cuba, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Cuba Daylight Time, which is the same as Eastern Daylight Time in the United States — 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time.
— Neil Solondz (@neilsolondz) March 21, 2016
Varona is not actually on the Tampa Bay 40-man roster, but he signed a minor league contract with the Rays during the offseason, and was then placed on the 34-man team that traveled to Cuba on Monday — where Varona saw his family members again and reflected on his defection, which started with a grueling and death-defying boat trip off the island.
“It was a very hard decision. Many people have asked me about it and it’s something I would never want to go through again. I’d never do it again. It was a decision in a moment of despair,” Varona told ESPN.
The game also comes at a time when Cuba’s government-owned national baseball league, once a source of pride for the country and a developing ground for dozens of Major League-quality players who dominated international amateur baseball for decades, finds itself in disarray.
— Stephen Wicary (@wicary) March 22, 2016
But the game between the Rays and the current Cuba National Team could serve as a way to both revitalize the Cuba league and to smooth the path for Cuban players to play in the United States.
The sticking point is the Cuba Baseball Federation requirement that players who receive salaries abroad must kick back a percentage of their pay to the Cuban government. Major League Baseball and the Obama administration are now negotiating with Cuba to abolish that requirement.
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To watch Tuesday’s historic Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cuba National Team exhibition baseball game at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, Cuba, use the live stream provided by WatchESPN at this link, or download the WatchESPN app to watch the game on mobile devices. Fans who do not have credentials to log in to WatchESPN can watch the game via the Sling TV internet TV package at this link. The package, which includes a variety of channels, including ESPN, costs $20 per month. But Sling TV offers a seven-day free trial, so subscribers can choose whether or not to keep the service after watching the Tampa Bay Rays vs. Cuba National Team game live online. A Spanish-language broadcast is also available via the WatchESPN link, above.
[Featured Photo By Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press]