Today’s baseball game will be the first visit to Cuba by a Major League Baseball club since the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game against the Cuban national team on March 28, 1999.
While a single game may not impact the political relationship President Obama, Raul Castro or other stakeholders seek, Tuesday’s game will mean a lot for two nations deeply rooted in the game of baseball. For Cuban fans, this is a chance to see All Stars Evan Longoria and Chris Archer play in person. For 28 year-old outfielder, Dayron Varona, the 90 mile trip from Florida to Havana will be a return home the athlete believed would never come. A Cuban native, Varona made the journey from his home country three years ago to escape the political turmoil and pursue his baseball aspirations in the United States. Although he has never played higher than Class AA baseball, Tampa Bay Rays players, Longoria and Archer lobbied for him to travel with the team after being selected by Major League Baseball as the team to make the visit.
"It will mean everything to him," Archer said. He continued, "He hasn't seen his family for three years. I hope he gets the opportunity to go running out to the outfield as a starter and have 40,000 or 50,000 fans screaming for him. It will be a surreal moment for him. He's got a lot of guts if he manages to hold back the tears, because it will be a special moment."
Over the last 15 years, many MLB superstars have come from Cuba. While each have their own unique story of their journey from Cuba to the Big League, they have long been classified as “traitors” or “defectors” by Cuban Officials and denied access to visit family and friends still in Cuba. Even the most popular MLB defectors, Rey Ordonez, Yasiel Puig and José Abreu have only recently been welcomed back to visit the country during the MLB’s Goodwill tour earlier this year. While many differences in opinion still exist between the nations, the love of baseball is something both sides hold in common. And nobody could be happier to see this parity than Tampa Bay Rays’ Outfielder Dayron Varona! Get Your Colors On!