Rays fans prepare to join team in Cuba

- A group of Tampa Bay residents spent Wednesday preparing for the trip of a lifetime -- accompanying the Tampa Bay Rays on the team's historic trip to play a game in Cuba. 

A meet-up event was held at the Hangar Restaurant in St. Pete on Wednesday evening, where 50 Rays fans headed to Cuba got together to talk about the trip.

"I can hardly talk about it without getting a little emotional. I know that it's been 70 years since my pop has set foot on the island," said Mario Nunez, who is taking the journey along with his father, Felipe Nunez.

The duo is hoping to trace some of their family's roots in Cuba while on the trip.

"My father was Cuban, and I had family there. We've lost complete contact with them, because it's been so many years," said Felipe Nunez.

The Downtown St. Petersburg Partnership announced in February it would take a group along for the Rays' trip to the island. The Nunez family jumped at the opportunity, despite having just a few days to make their decision and submit the necessary $3,500 per person for the trip.

"To know that I'm going to be able to sit there with my dad, in the baseball stadium, watching the game, I'm so looking forward to this," said Mario Nunez.

Cuba is a country few Americans have ventured. The Rays will be the first Major League Baseball team to play on the island since the Baltimore Orioles in 1999.

President Obama will be in attendance with his family during the historic visit. He will be the first sitting president to visit the country in 88 years.

On Tuesday, President Obama announced plans to loosen travel restrictions, allowing Americans to take "people-to-people" trips on their own, instead of costly tour groups.

"There's something happening serendipitously," said Nunez. "I think all of these points of light are coming together. I think baseball is a wonderful means by which the two countries can bridge that gap."

Aside from attending the game, the group will tour historic sites in Cuba, like the Colon Cemetery. They return on Wednesday, March 23.

The Rays will face the Cuban National Team at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

FOX 13's Scott Smith and Craig Patrick are also traveling to Cuba to cover the game and the trip; stay with FOX 13 for coverage.

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