The MLB has announced that the Tampa Bay Rays were chosen by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to play an exhibition game against the Cuban national team on March 22. President Barack Obama is expected to be in attendance at the 55,000-capacity Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana.
This is an historic moment, since it marks the first time a U.S.-based team will play on the island since the Baltimore Orioles paid a visit in 1999. Obama will be the second U.S. President to visit the island while in office, following Calvin Coolidge’s trip in 1928.
The excitement is justified. Like Chris Archer, the Rays’ stellar pitcher said, “We’re extremely excited as a group to be a part of this process.” Matt Silverman, president of baseball operations for the Tampa Bay team also said, “For us, it’s about spreading goodwill through baseball.”
That’s not the only good MLB-related news for Habaneros. The MLB is planning to open an office in Cuba, just like the one they have in other Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic. Establishing an official office on the island will only help local players improve, provide a more honest path to professional sports, and erect better infrastructure for local talent to develop.
There are many diplomatic and logistical hurdles to jump and a long way to go, but when the first ball is thrown, we’ll know that the Cuba-U.S. game is changing.