For the first time in 17 years, a Major League Baseball team will take the field on Cuban soil on Tuesday, when the Cuban national team hosts the Rays in Havana. The historic contest is the result of the United States' efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, a country with
For the first time in 17 years, a Major League Baseball team will take the field on Cuban soil on Tuesday, when the Cuban national team hosts the Rays in Havana. The historic contest is the result of the United States' efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, a country with deep ties to baseball history.
Here's a look at some interesting facts surrounding Tuesday's game. (Watch a historic live look-in on MLB.com beginning shortly before 2 p.m. ET Tuesday of ESPN's coverage of the ceremonies, first pitches, anthems and more, including the start of the game. The remainder of the broadcast will be available on MLB.TV.)
• The last time a Major League team played in Cuba was on March 28, 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles beat the Cuban national team, 3-2, in 11 innings. That exhibition ended an even longer drought; it had been four decades since an MLB club had last played in Cuba.
• When Air Force One landed in Cuba on Sunday, President Barack Obama, who will attend Tuesday afternoon's game, became the first president to visit the island since Calvin Coolidge did so in 1928.
Rays visit Cuba
• Estadio Latinoamericano, the 55,000-seat venue for Tuesday's exhibition, is home to Havana's two Serie Nacional teams -- Industriales and Metropolitanos. It also played host to the 1991 Pan-American Games and was the site of the exhibition between the Orioles and the Cuban national team in 1999.
• Cuba and the United States have met six times in the Olympics (1992, '96, 2000 and 2008). The Cuban team won all but one of the matchups, losing only the 2000 gold-medal game. Cuba has traditionally dominated Olympic baseball. Of the five Olympic games to include the event, Cuba leads all nations with five medals, including three golds and two silvers. The U.S. is second with three total medals and one gold.
• Pedro Luiz Lazo -- the losing pitcher in that 2000 gold-medal game against the U.S. -- will throw out the ceremonial first pitch along with Luis Tiant, a Cuba native and three-time All-Star during his 19-year MLB career.
• Though both the U.S. and Cuba have qualified for each of the three installments of the World Baseball Classic, they've yet to meet in the tournament. They have, however, competed in an annual home-and-home international friendship series between the USA Baseball collegiate national team and the Cuban national team.
• The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers both held Spring Training in Havana many years ago. The Giants spent a spring in Cuba in 1937, while the Dodgers were there in 1941, '42 and '47.
• Many of baseball's stars hail from Cuba. Last season, two players from the island -- Detroit's Jose Iglesias and former Reds closer Aroldis Chapman -- were named All-Stars. The year prior, there were five Cuban All-Stars: Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes, Alexei Ramirez and Chapman.
• Minor League outfielder Dayron Varona is Tampa Bay's only Cuban-born player. He has yet to play above the Double-A level, but he was added to the club's 34-man travel roster for this game.
• Ninety-five players from Cuba have reached the Majors since the U.S. imposed sanctions in 1961. Last season featured a record 27 Cuban players in the big leagues, according to ESPN.com.
• MLB and the MLB Players Association are bringing several special guests to Cuba for the game, including Hall of Famers Joe Torre and Dave Winfield, former Yankees captain Derek Jeter and Cuba natives and former Major Leaguers Jose Cardenal and Tiant.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com.