Rays going to Cuba for historic exhibition game

- Following decades of separation, the cold relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has thawed. Today, there is diplomacy, air travel and the appearance of a path toward normalized relations.

The Tampa Bay Rays baseball team is taking advantage of the repaired relations, packing up and heading down for a game.

"There are more and more good will trips between our country and Cuba. The Rays trip is one of those," said Rodney Kite-Powell, the Saunders foundation curator of history - at the Tampa Bay History Center.

On March 22, the Rays will become the first team since the Orioles - back in 1999 - to play in Cuba, taking on its national team in an exhibition game.

"Because of those connections between Tampa and Florida and Cuba, and it's these kind of good will missions that can help break barriers that still exist," said Kite-Powell.

The connections date back to the 1500s, and were cemented with the cigar industry back in the 1880s. Rays owner Stu Sternberg called it a no-brainer for the team.

"I think we're the best suited for it because, as I said, the distance from here to Cuba, and also the historical lines here," Sternberg said.

"To be in the middle of it is exciting," said Rays season ticket holder Charo Vargas.

Vargas will be one of the thousands of fans in attendance in Havana. 

"It's one of those events that you're going to sit back and process, but to be in Havana in the middle of March, watching a baseball game, I don't think I'd thought I'd ever be doing this," she said.

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