The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Cuba national team on Tuesday, a historic meeting of the two formerly hostile nations that symbolizes the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
As MSN reports, compared to normal Cuban baseball games — complete with raucous crowds, music, dancing, and almost nonstop horn-blowing — Tuesday’s exhibition game was downright solemn. Still, as an international event with deep diplomatic implications, the game was accompanied by plenty of pomp.
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Dancers got the crowd warmed up before the game. Dressed in white, a choir sang both the Cuban and U.S. national anthems. Then the Tampa Bay Rays emerged, accompanied hand-in-hand by Cuban children.
The Tampa Bay Rays defeat the Cuban National Team, 4-1, in the 1st game involving an MLB team in Cuba since 1999. pic.twitter.com/bRWTRd7lD6
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Sitting in the crowd, directly behind home plate, were the two countries’ presidents. Barack Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle and daughter Sasha, went slightly informal, wearing a white shirt and sunglasses. Cuban president Raul Castro chose to go a little more formal and donned a blazer.
On the field, the Rays and the Cuban team were accompanied by a slew of baseball dignitaries. Former players Dave Winfield and Derek Jeter, accompanied by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, greeted the two presidents. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sat in the VIP section accompanied by Cuban officials.
Rays pitching ace Chris Archer, at one time a player in the Chicago Cubs organization, presented Obama, a White Sox fan, with a glove signed by the Rays’ Matt Moore.
Unfortunately for the Cuban fans, the action on the field didn’t turn out in their favor. The Rays’ pitching kept the Cuban bats quiet until the 9th inning, when Cuba’s Rudy Reyes hit a solo homer. By that time, the Rays already had a four-run lead, and they went on to win the game, 4-1.
Regardless of the outcome for the home team, Tuesday’s game was filled with deep significance off the field. It was the first time an American team had played in Cuba since 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles visited during Spring Training.
The game also marked another step in warming relations between the two countries, who have been at odds with each other for six decades. Americans have been forbidden from visiting the communist country, except under certain specific circumstances, and from doing business with the country since the Kennedy administration. The Obama administration has been working toward fully normalizing relations between the two countries.
The significance of the game wasn’t lost on the players on the field. Rays player Matt Moore described the atmosphere in Cuba as similar to being in a post-season game back home.
“It’s really great, you know, this is something that feels like a very big game back home… I’ve had the opportunity to be in the playoffs a few times and this feels like that kind of an event.”
The game was also deeply significant on the Cuban side, especially for Cuba third baseman Rudy Reyes.
“This game meant a lot, because of the brotherhood there will be from now on.”
Even the fans were swept up in the significance of the historic game. Eighteen-year-old Guillermo Gonzalez, who cheered for the home team, said that the game symbolized unity.
“We are celebrating a union between two peoples, between the United States and Cuba. It’s marvelous.”
The crowd at the Tampa Bay Rays-Cuba game observed a moment of silence before the game in honor of the victims of the Brussels terrorist attacks.
[Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP]