Rays, Obama set for Cuba visit on March 22

Exhibition game scheduled vs. Cuban National Team in Havana in first MLB club visit to nation since 1999

March 1st, 2016

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays are headed south to Cuba to play the Cuban National Team this spring.

After months of trying to get the details for the trip finalized, the much-awaited announcement confirming that the trip will indeed take place came Tuesday afternoon. President Barack Obama, who will be visiting Cuba at the time, plans to attend the game.

"The Rays are extremely proud to represent Major League Baseball on a trip that will be so memorable and significant for two countries that revere our great sport," said Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg in a release from Major League Baseball. "Our franchise will be privileged to visit Cuba, to share the field with its National Team and to embody the goodwill of our game."

In the same MLB release, Commissioner Robert Manfred said: "Major League Baseball is excited to play in Cuba and to have the Tampa Bay Rays representing our 30 clubs. During a time of historic change, we appreciate the constructive role afforded by our shared passion for the game, and we look forward to experiencing Cuba's storied baseball tradition and the passion of its many loyal fans."

The Rays will fly to Cuba on March 20. The following day, they will stage a clinic before they finish their trip by playing 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 any Major League franchise since the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game against the Cuban National Team on March 28, 1999.

A look back at some photos from Orioles-Cuba game in 1999

"For us, it's about spreading goodwill through baseball," Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said during a conference call. "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."

In December, Major League Baseball representatives traveled to Cuba with the idea that a game might be arranged between a Major League team and the Cuban National Team. The Rays then won a lottery involving the teams that expressed interest in making such a trip.

"Americans and Cubans share a love of baseball, and this is yet another powerful reminder of the kinship between our peoples as well as the progress we can achieve when we leverage those natural ties," a White House official said, according to ESPN.com.

Initially, the tenative plans had the Rays scheduled to play more than one game during a visit that would have taken place in the March 28-30 window.

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark issued the following statement: "The players on the Tampa Bay Rays are looking forward to visiting Cuba and playing in front of some of the world's most passionate and knowledgeable baseball fans. We thank the Cuban National Team and all involved in hosting this game, as we are very excited to return to Havana to continue our efforts to strengthen the ties between our countries through our love and passion for the game of baseball."