Tampa Bay Rays to play in Havana during Obama visit

Wed Mar 2, 2016 3:30am EST
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HAVANA (Reuters) - The Tampa Bay Rays will become the first Major League Baseball franchise to play in Havana since 1999 when they face Cuba's national team in an exhibition this month coinciding with a historic visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The March 22 game, announced by MLB on Tuesday, has been planned for months. Major League Baseball, the organization that runs professional baseball in North America, said in November it would choose the Rays as the team to play in Havana if it could make a deal with the Cuban Baseball Federation.

"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," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Obama will attend the game, a senior White House adviser said in a tweet late on Tuesday.

"Charting new #CubaPolicy means stronger ties between Cubans & Americans - we all share a love of baseball,” tweeted Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

The game will be played at the 45,000-seat Latin American Stadium, site of a 1999 exhibition between the Baltimore Orioles and Cuba's national team. It has been undergoing improvements, including installation of a new infield, under MLB supervision.

The game takes place 15 months after a thawing of relations between the former Cold War enemies. Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to normalize relations in December 2014 and the two sides restored diplomatic ties and reopened embassies in Havana and Washington last year.

Obama's visit on March 21 and 22 will mark the first by a sitting U.S. president since 1928 and the first since Fidel Castro's rebels overthrew a pro-American government in 1959.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Rolling Stones said they would perform a free outdoor concert in Havana on March 25, a milestone in a country where the Communist government once banned the group's music as an "ideological deviation".   Continued...

Oct 4, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Mikie Mahtook (27) is congratulated by Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Brandon Guyer (5) as he hits a 2-run home run during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports