Jaffe: Rays’ exhibition game in Cuba brings two countries closer

From SABR member Jay Jaffe at Sports Illustrated on March 22, 2016:

The game didn’t count in the standings, but Tuesday afternoon’s exhibition between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team carried tremendous symbolic importance. The contest, played in front of some 55,000 fans at Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano and won by the Rays, 4–1, positioned baseball as the vanguard of the changing relationship between the United States and Cuba following more than a half-century of embargo. Not only was it just the second visit by a major league team since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power (the first was in 1999, when the Orioles visited), but it marked the first time that a sitting U.S. President visited the island since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. President Obama led an entourage that included the First Family, Rachel Robinson and Sharon Robinson (the widow and daughter of Jackie Robinson, respectively) and several dozen members of Congress.

Major League Baseball, which in December embarked upon a three-day goodwill tour of the island, sent a high-profile entourage as well, headed by commissioner Rob Manfred, chief baseball officer (and Hall of Famer) Joe Torre, fellow Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson, and former major league stars Derek Jeter, Jose Cardenal and Luis Tiant, the last two of whom are natives of Cuba. The 75-year-old Tiant, the majors’ all-time leader in wins (229) among Cuban-born pitchers, shared ceremonial first-pitch honors  with 42-year-old Pedro Lazo, a longtime star for Pinar del Rio of Cuba’s Serie Nacional as well as Olympic gold and silver-medal-winning Cuban National Teams. MLB umpires Angel Hernandez (who was born in Havana) and Laz Diaz (a Miami native of Cuban descent) joined four Cuban umpires in working the contest.

Read the full article here: http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/03/22/tampa-bay-rays-exhibition-game-cuba-president-obama

Originally published: March 23, 2016. Last Updated: March 23, 2016.