Historic Game Between Cuba And MLB’s Rays Puts Future Relations Center-Stage

The Tampa Bays Rays defeated the Cuban National Team on Tuesday 4-1 in a historic matchup that saw United States President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, among many other important faces, in attendance.

The game is the first time since 1999 that an MLB team visits and plays in the country of Cuba.

Even though a game was being played, the significance behind the presence of those in attendance and what the game could lead to in terms of relations between the two countries was more of a discussion than any play or score the game provided.

Notable faces included recently retired Yankee and long-time ambassador for the MLB, Derek Jeter, his former Yankee manager, Joe Torre, and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry was also in attendance in the VIP box, along with several of Cuba’s highest officials.

The hand-selected, near-capacity crowd at Estadio Latinoamericano cheered as Obama and Castro entered the stadium and walked towards their seats right behind home plate, acknowledging fans and greeting others they came across.

Admission to the historic match up was free and those in attendance got a hold of tickets through organizations such as student groups and workplaces, which assured the game’s organizers a less chaotic crowd than traditional Cuban games that are notoriously known for their extreme behavior.

“It’s beautiful. The field looks marvelous,” said Guillermo Gonzalez, an 18-year-old university student. “We are celebrating a union between two peoples, between the United States and Cuba. It’s marvelous.”

Obama landed in the communist-led country this past Sunday, March 20, and became the first sitting president since Calvin Coolidge in 1928 to visit the Cuban country.

Prior to the opening pitch, Tampa Bay players walked over to greet President Obama and his family while handing them flowers and small Cuban flags through the netting that stands behind home plate.

The game allowed a homecoming for Tampa Bay right fielder Dayron Varona, who defected in 2013. Varona was born in Havana and spent several years playing in Cuba before escaping his country via boat to Haiti.

“This is something I didn’t believe until I hugged my niece,” Varona said Monday after seeing relatives in Cuba. “Because it’s been three years that I don’t see them, and it’s something very thrilling but also very painful.”

Both country’s presidents didn’t stay long, however, as both of them made an early exit after the third inning. Obama was making his way to the airport for his state visit to Argentina.

ESPN’s broadcast of the game was focused more on its in-inning conversations with the many notables in attendance than the actual game that didn’t provide much entertainment in its own right.

From Derek Jeter to the president of Cuban baseball, ESPN broadcasters focused on questions regarding the state of Cuban baseball and how the game might move forward from the game currently being played.

If anything, many of those interviews resulted in the conversation of how to provide Cuban players a safer and more appropriate avenue for coming to the MLB without having to defect from their homeland.

The stadium did hold a minute of silence before Tuesday’s game to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks in Brussels that saw 30 individuals lose their lives earlier that day.

The ISIS Terror group has since taken credit for the bombing that took place at the Brussels airport and metro station.

Many, including all three GOP candidates, have since criticized Obama for sticking around in Cuba instead of coming back to the United States to address the situation.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)