MLB is Back in Cuba… and that’s a Fact
MLB is Back in Cuba… and that’s a Fact
Three hours before the first pitch in the much-anticipated game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban baseball team, the Latin American Stadium had a full house. The organizers of the game had warned that invitations would be required to attend the game and, due to safety reasons, the people had to be in their seats way in advance. In the history of Cuban baseball, an American president had never witnessed a game in Cuba and, to make it even more curious, President Raul Castro had never attended a game since he officially took office back in 2008.
Therefore, the 50 thousand people gathered at the Grand Giant of Cerro—as the main baseball facility of Cuba is also named—knew it was worth waiting for this event. After all, you don’t witness a historic development every day. Tampa Bay could be one of the less popular franchises, not only in Cuba, and the Cuban fans would’ve certainly preferred to welcome other teams in Havana, such as the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers; but the Rays were the winners in the draw carried out by the Major League Baseball (MLB).
Some people actually thought that the Tampa Bay players wouldn’t come due to the conditions of the field, far different from those in Major League. This fact triggered a huge mobilization—of people and economic resources given by the authorities— to refurbish not only the lawn, but the broadcasting cabins at the facility. Perhaps that process would have taken several months, but an amount of money was injected and the “Latino” showed the best face in its history.
The movement of Secret Service agents and the Personal Security alerted on the arrival of presidents Obama and Raul. In the morning, the U.S. president had delivered a speech to the Cuban people, from Alicia Alonso Grand Theater, and he later held a private meeting at the embassy with another group of Cubans. It seems that the meeting took longer than expected, because there was a delay in his arrival. Obama, already without his suit and tie, wearing dark glasses, was welcomed with a strong applause. He was accompanied by Raul, Michelle, his two daughters and even the mother in law.
Both heads of state sat down behind the home plate, after they talked to some members of the MLB delegation, specially the future member of the Hall of Fame, Derek Jeter, who greeted Obama and this one introduced him to Raul.
Afterwards, all eyes were focused on the baseball game. Two great pitchers, Pedro Luis Lazo, top winner in National Series (257) and Luis Tiant Jr., the Cuban player with the highest number of victories in Major League (229), delivered the first simultaneous pitch.
The Rays had Cuban Dayron Varona—who left Cuba in 2014—as the first man in the lineup. The Camaguey-born player couldn’t do much, but his presence had great symbolic meaning, because the Cuban authorities have decreed that the athletes who have illegally abandoned the country are not allowed to come back in an eight-year period. In December 2015, the MLB delegation included four active players (Jose Dariel Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Alexei Ramirez and Bryan Peña); Puig later returned to enjoy his vacation and Varona came now. These signals indicate a change.
On the field, the Rays easily won the game, although none of the presidents was there for the final out, since they left the stadium in the third inning. The Tampa Bay starter, southpaw Matt Moore, was in trouble in the first moments, but he managed to avoid any run and stood on the mound through the sixth inning. On the Cuban side, starter Yosvani Torres found himself in a difficult situation in the second chapter, after two outs and a hit by James Looney scored the first run for the Rays.
The manager of the Cuban team, Victor Mesa, wasn’t willing to expose Torres—the playoffs of the National Series are about to tee off—, so he summoned Livan Moinelo. He was pitching through the fourth inning when, with two outs, he gave a walk. Looney sent the ball beyond the wall and set the scoreboard in 3-0.
The visitors later scored another run in the seventh inning and, after Moore, the relief pitchers contained the Cuban batters through the ninth inning. Nearly half of the attendees were already gone by that moment, they were going back home, so they missed the only exciting moment for the local team. Against Dominican pitcher Alex Colome, batter Rudy Reyes delivered a homerun. Afterwards, Juan Carlos Torriente increased the temperature with a double, but Colome took the last two outs.
The friendly day came to an end with both team exchanging T-Shirts and even signing them. It wouldn’t be to daring to say that, after this unforgettable afternoon at the Latin American Stadium, MLB is back in Cuba… and that’s a fact.