As part of his historic trip to Cuba, U.S. President Barack Obama attended a baseball game with Cuban President Raul Castro Tuesday between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuba National Team at Estadio Latinoamericano Stadium in Havana. The game marks the second time since 1959 that an American team has played in Cuba — the Baltimore Orioles defeated the national team, 3-2, in Havana in 1999.
In the leadup to the game, which was broadcast on ESPN, the event was noted on Twitter for its electric atmosphere and even drew some celebrities, as Rachel Robinson, the 92-year-old wife of the late Jackie Robinson, was on hand, as was former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre and former Cuban-born major leaguer Jose Cardenal.
Just prior to the opening pitch, thrown by Omar Linares, the stadium boasted the sounds normally reserved for soccer matches, with a vuvuzela blaring and the “Olé, Olé, Olé” chant breaking out among the crowd. And, at the same time, The Wave was in full effect, with both Obama and Castro taking part in the long-time baseball tradition.
The contest opened, much to the delight of the Cuban fans on hand, with a slick siding catch by center fielder Roel Santos that sent the already hyped crowd into a frenzy. The Rays would eventually strike back with some momentum of their own, notching a run in the second inning when a James Loney single scored Kevin Kiermaier to break open the scoring.
The game has not been without its detractors, with ESPN’s Dan Le Batard issuing the loudest set of doubts regarding the future of Cuba on both his radio show and in a piece that appeared on ESPN’s website. Le Batard wrote that based on the dishonest actions of Cuba’s ruling regime, there is little in terms of substantial hope that the game will be any more than just that. Others, via social media and in the media, have been more hopeful about the future of the country and the role the MLB will play.
The Rays went on to defeat the Cuban National Team 4-1. Loney led the way with three RBIs, the other two coming off a two-run home run in the fourth inning.