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Rays will play in Cuba; Obama to attend

Estadio Latinoamericano

After a few fits and starts, the Tampa Bay Rays will indeed travel to Cuba this month to take on the Cuban National Team at Estadio Latinoamericano on Tuesday, March 22 — and President Barack Obama will be in attendance.

“Major League Baseball is excited to play in Cuba and to have the Tampa Bay Rays representing our 30 clubs,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in a press statement. “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.”

This will be the first visit to Cuba by an MLB franchise since the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game against the Cuban National Team on March 28, 1999. Built in 1946 and holding 55,000, Estadio Latinoamericano is the Yankee Stadium of Cuba in several ways. It’s the largest ballpark in Cuba and used for the biggest events, and the home team, Los Industriales, is certainly the Yankees of Cuba. Estadio Latinoamericano is by far the largest ballpark in Cuba, with a capacity of 55,000. The entire grandstand is covered, and there are open bleachers in the outfield. Seating behind home consists of blue wooden seats, very old, and certainly a little cramped by modern American standards. The old ballpark is the beneficiary of a big facelift for the event: the field is being worked on, and the grandstand roof is being repaired.

The game will be televised on ESPN and ESPN Deportes while ESPN’s SportsCenter will have an on-site presence in Havana on March 21st-22. The game will also be streamed via WatchESPN.

“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,” Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg said. “Our franchise will be privileged to visit Cuba, to share the field with its National Team and to embody the goodwill of our game.”

“The Players on the Tampa Bay Rays are looking forward to visiting Cuba and playing in front of some of the world’s most passionate and knowledgeable baseball fans,” MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark said. “We thank the Cuban National Team and all involved in hosting this game, as we are very excited to return to Havana to continue our efforts to strengthen the ties between our countries through our love and passion for the game of baseball.”

Photo of Estadio Latinoamericano by John Moist. Read more about this historic ballpark and other Cuban ballparks here.

RELATED STORIES: Schwechheimer: Bringing MiLB to Cuba; Manfred: MLB anxious to move on Cuba; Cuba exhibition on tap for 2016 spring training; MLB: Still trying to figure out Cuba; Shuckers wooing Cuban teams for exhibitions

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