First group of Rays arrive in Havana for historic trip
The first group of Rays personnel arrived safely in Havana early this afternoon.
A contigent of about 85, led by principal owner Stuart Sternberg, flew in an Eastern Airlines charter flight from Tampa, cleared Cuban immigration and customs and were welcomed at their tony hotel with a reception that included mojitos.
"It's always great when you put your organization on a path to do something that, while not impossible, is quite difficult and they have handled it with great aplomb,'' Sternberg said at the team hotel.
The players - including Cuban-born OF Dayron Varona - coaches and other staff are due to arrive around 9 p.m., assembling at the Trop after today's game and then heading to Tampa airport fo r their charter flight.
The trip for the first contingent went smoothly, a group that included members of the ownership gorup, team executives such as president Brian Auld, sponsors and some media, along with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and his famiily.
Auld said he was able to exhale just before boarding the plane at Tampa airport, realizing that the months of work by the team staff, headed by Melanie Lenz and Chris Westmoreland, had been well done.
"When we were standing in line getting ready to get on the plane I had my sense of excitement and relief,'' Auld said. "Everything was in good order, everybody was there, there were big smiles on everyone's faces.''
Sternberg said it hit him riding in one of the three busses from the airport to the hotel, noting the 61-minute flight from Tampa was a little rough.
"I thought it was getting on the plane except for when we took that 2,000-foot dive and it felt like we were up in space,'' Sternberg said. "So it was on the bus when I was looking I first saw one cold car and then I saw about 70, so that's when it hit me, like, okay, we're not in Kansas anymore.''
The Rays will face the Cuban National Team in a game on Tuesday.