Calling them "the most passionate fans in the world," Rays pitcher Chris Archer applauded Cuban citizens who embraced Major League Baseball's historic visit to Havana, and the Tampa Bay ace said he had to fight back tears during an emotional on-field ceremony before the Rays' 4-1 victory in Tuesday's exhibition
Calling them "the most passionate fans in the world," Rays pitcher Chris Archer applauded Cuban citizens who embraced Major League Baseball's historic visit to Havana, and the Tampa Bay ace said he had to fight back tears during an emotional on-field ceremony before the Rays' 4-1 victory in Tuesday's exhibition game against the Cuban national team at Estadio Latinoamericano.
"I would say that these are the most passionate fans in the world," Archer said during an interview with ESPN in the bottom of the first inning. "It's mainly because they don't get the Major League product as frequently as we do. I would encourage people to check out everything they have going on, come here on a cultural trip -- you and your family -- and it will make you a better person."
:: Complete coverage: Historic Cuba visit ::
Archer and his teammates each came out to the field holding hands with a young Cuban child, each holding a white rose.
"I had to fight back some tears," Archer said. "Just thinking about the magnitude of the whole experience, and then the fans -- how passionate they are and the chance they have -- it was emotional, for sure.
"I'm hoping that we're laying the foundation for something special going forward. Obviously we have differences as countries, differences of opinions on human rights, and hopefully we can find some common ground. Hopefully the Rays are showing the people of Cuba, the government of Cuba, what can be, for lack of a better word, 'afforded' to them if they do open their doors and start being a little more open-minded about their policies."
Before the game, Archer got a chance to meet President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, and then gave Obama a glove from starting pitcher Matt Moore.
"[President Obama] told me he appreciated how thoughtful I was in speaking about our opportunity to be here, and just in general," Archer said. "It's probably the highest compliment I've had in my life. He wasn't just appreciative of my ability, but of the way I spoke and carried myself. I've never had a higher compliment.
"Matt Moore, he knew that he wouldn't have a chance to shake [President Obama's] hand, but he asked me if I would give his glove as a gift to the president. I did that, and the president made sure to tell me to 'tell [Moore] that I said 'Thank you.'"
Archer, one of the more social media-savvy players in MLB, was having fun before the trip in tweeting @POTUS and @FLOTUS to see about "hanging out in Cuba." He naturally had to ask the first couple why they had not tweeted back.
"I shook the first lady's hand as well, and [the president] was educating her on who I was," Archer said. "So hopefully there's some potential there, even if they're not in office, to get together and do some things. They're great in the community, they're really about impacting the youth of this world, and that's one of my missions in life as well.
"Neither of them responded to my tweets, which I was pretty upset about, and I told them, but they're obviously pretty busy.
"The first lady said they can't get back to everybody. A lot of times, it's other people actually checking [the Twitter account] and informing her, because they don't have time to scroll through Twitter. They have, first of all, a family, plus running the country, but it was all playful. Hopefully I can get a response, but if not, I'm totally content with the interaction we had."
Archer was at ease during this trip in talking with local citizens, such as the cook who made his beans and rice.
"It was awesome," Archer said. "We went down to the Hot Corner and people were telling me stats about myself that I didn't even know. The passion for life, the pure happiness and joy, the fact they don't have [as much] technology, so they have to interact with each other -- it's admirable. I don't know how I would handle the situations that they have, but they make the most of it, and I'm definitely going to take that home with me.
"Something inside me tells me to maximize the opportunities that I have in life, and connecting with people is something I've always loved to do. It gives me a greater perspective . . . it definitely altered my life."
Archer said the trip was about "changing lives."
"At first, some people were kind of skeptical, to be honest. But once we sat down as a group and thought about the magnitude of the experience, it was a no-brainer," Archer said. "Once we landed here, the excitement and the team-bonding experience has just been unbelievable.
"We already have a great energy about our club, and it's elevated to even higher heights now. I'm looking forward to carrying this energy into the season, because we definitely appreciate the opportunities that we're afforded to play this game on the highest level, from being here and understanding how passionate people around the world are."
And what did he think of the Cuban players so far?
"They're aggressive. They're hustling," Archer said. "The passion from this country is bleeding into the way they play."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.