Archer, Rays grasp full meaning of Cuba trip

March 2nd, 2016

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- According to Chris Archer, the Rays are "extremely excited as a group" to be a part of the trip to Cuba that Major League Baseball announced Tuesday afternoon.

"In a sense, we're part of something that's extremely historic for both countries and looking to mingle and experience the culture of a place where we haven't been able to travel freely for a while," said Archer, who serves as the team's union player rep.

The Rays will play the Cuban National Team in an exhibition game on March 22 at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. This will be the first visit to Cuba by a Major League franchise since the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game against the Cuban National Team on March 28, 1999.

"For us, it's about spreading goodwill through baseball," said Matt Silverman, Rays president of baseball operations. "It's been about 20 years since a Major League team has had the opportunity to play in Cuba. We're excited for the opportunity and to experience firsthand the baseball culture of Cuba."

Silverman allowed that "logistically, there will be some challenges."

"But the Players Association and Major League Baseball have worked hard to minimize the disruptions," Silverman said. "Our first priority is getting ready for Opening Day, and we've worked hard to make sure that this trip won't interfere much, if at all, with those preparations."

The Rays' traveling party will be contained in two planes. They have not yet finalized who will go on the trip and have not had in-depth conversation in that direction.

"We're going to see how the spring goes and see how the rotation and the pitching staff is shaping up. We'll try to make decisions about which players go and which players stay back," Silverman said. "The priority is getting ready for the season, so we have to make sure, especially for pitchers who are on a schedule, that that schedule comes first and they get their work in."

When asked if the Rays' trip coinciding with a trip by President Barack Obama to Cuba brought further complications, Silverman said: "It adds a great dimension to the trip."

"And it's going to shine an even greater spotlight on the event and Major League Baseball," Silverman said. "Frankly, it hasn't affected the travel plans and the planning much. It's already difficult enough for us to pull this off.

"Our focus has just been on securing the transportation, securing the hotels, and making sure that it will run smoothly for our players and that they have a first-rate experience in Cuba."

The trip is not limited to players on the 40-man roster and, according to Silverman, the Rays "will be taking fewer than 40" on the trip.

Among those who will be considered for the trip is non-roster outfielder Dayron Varona, who was born in Havana, Cuba.

"It's a special situation for him, and we're going to talk to him about his desires and factor them into the plans as they come into focus," Silverman said.

Archer said he gathered from his teammates that the trip would not be a distraction.

"It's going to be a little abnormal," Archer said. "There was a poll of guys, the whole team, if you did not want to participate, because you had other obligations or you felt like it was going to be a distraction to you personally, then you could have opted not to go."

Archer said the team is looking forward to embracing "the great baseball tradition there."

"They're extremely knowledgable fans who don't get to see Major League Baseball on a regular basis," Archer said. "They are extremely passionate. So being able to see their excitement and, in a weird way, reward them for being such diligent fans, is going to be probably the most special thing. And impacting young children's lives."