Date set for Tampa Bay Rays-Cuba game in Havana

Major League Baseball (MLB) team the Tampa Bay Rays will travel to the Cuban capital of Havana later this month for an exhibition game against the country’s national team, it has been confirmed.

The game will be played on March 22 at the 55,000-seat Latin America Stadium and will mark the first time a MLB franchise has played a game in Cuba since 1999.

The decision to stage the game ties in with the US government’s plans to improve relations between the country and the Communist state. Barack Obama plans on attending the game, according to a tweet sent yesterday (Tuesday) by Ben Rhodes, the US President’s deputy national security adviser.

A number of teams reportedly expressed an interest in taking part in a game on Cuban soil, including the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. The Rays were picked at random during a lottery process conducted by MLB in November.

Discussions between MLB officials and the Cuban government have since taken place, with an official announcement being made yesterday.

“Major League Baseball is excited to play in Cuba and to have the Tampa Bay Rays representing our 30 clubs,” MLB commissioner Robert Manfred said. “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.”

Manfred had pushed for a game to be staged in Cuba for some time. Last April, he publicly backed the idea but accepted changes in federal policy were required before the plans could be given the green light. The US government’s Obama Administration eventually gave the proposal the go-ahead, allowing Manfred to press ahead with his plans.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg added: “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. Our franchise will be privileged to visit Cuba, to share the field with its national team and to embody the goodwill of our game.”

US teams played spring training games in Cuba before Fidel Castro’s revolution, but none appeared from March 1959 until the Baltimore Orioles faced the national team in Havana in March 1999.