Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Archer says Rays' Cuba trip is about more than baseball

PORT CHARLOTTE — In discussing next week's historic trip to Cuba, most Rays have veered away from the political aspects, beyond touting the goodwill nature of the rare visit as a form of baseball diplomacy in the improving relations between the United States and the nearby island nation.

But All-Star ace Chris Archer, one of the more thoughtful Rays, is hoping the three-day visit generates more meaningful implications, and potential changes, to the Cuban style of government under the Castros.

"Hopefully us going there is a political statement for their leaders," Archer said Tuesday. "Hopefully it opens their leaders' eyes to what is possible for their nation. Not from a sports perspective, but if they choose to change their ways what can be afforded to their country.

"The baseball element will be cool. Being around the fans and the people for that amount of time will be a great experience. But hopefully it has a lasting impact on their country as a whole, on a deeper level than sports."

Specifically, Archer said, "Changing their policies on how they treat their people. They might open their doors, but if they don't change their policies they are not going to be awarded all the benefits."

The Rays will get a first-hand look during the three-day visit, which starts Sunday and culminates with a 2 p.m. Tuesday exhibition against the Cuban National Team, with Matt Moore the starting pitcher.

And Tuesday they made official what seemed likely, that Cuban-born outfielder Dayron Varona would be included on their 34-player travel roster and get to return home for the first time since leaving on a boat with his mother in 2013 to start his pro career. Varona is the only player not on the 40-man roster selected to go.

"Obviously this is a really special opportunity for me," Varona said through team interpreter George Pappas. "Clearly, it's been difficult to have been away from my homeland for as long as I have been. So I'm really looking forward to this special opportunity and thankful."

The Rays were likely to bring Varona, who spent most of last season at Double-A Montgomery, anyway, but it became even more clear when Archer, Evan Longoria and others lobbied team officials to include him. Manager Kevin Cash said that spoke volumes.

"It means the world to me that they did that," Varona said. "This is really the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to return to my homeland."

As a result, Varona, 28, will get an unexpected chance to see his sister, aunt, niece and goddaughter. Also, to play again in front of the Cuban fans, who are expected to pack Estadio Latinoamericano.

"With respect to the Cuban people, I hope they see me as a fellow Cuban," he said. "I hope they give me applause and receive me well, like they would for their countrymen."

Moore said he was excited about the opportunity to start the game, which will be the first appearance by a big-league team on this island since 1999.

"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of excitement around the game," Moore said. "I think it's really cool to be a part of it and get to pitch."

Though beating a major-league team would be considered a significant accomplishment for the Cubans, Moore said the Rays won't see it as an intense competition and that their goal is to "put our best foot forward to win" but also to be "still trying to get ourselves in shape for the season" during the trip.

"I would assume this is a friendly, as they say in soccer," he said. "I don't think we're wanting to be, 'Hey let's go take it to them,' any more than any other opponent that we step on the field with."

From the pool of 32 healthy players (plus injured pitchers Alex Cobb and Chase Whitley), Cash said they will designate an active roster of 28, including eight or nine pitchers. Two big-leaguers not going are pitchers Jake Odorizzi, who will work in a minor-league game in Port Charlotte on Monday to stay on his throwing schedule, and Erasmo Ramirez, who is slated for action March 23.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Comments
Rays thoughts are with ex-teammate Danny Farquhar

Rays thoughts are with ex-teammate Danny Farquhar

Members of the Rays organization sent their thoughts and prayers to former teammate Danny Farquhar, who was hospitalized Saturday night in Chicago in stable but critical condition after suffering a brain hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm.Farqu...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays on Sunday: 1:10 vs. Twins

Rays on Sunday: 1:10 vs. Twins

Sunday vs. Twins1:10, Tropicana FieldTV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 760-AM (Spanish)Tickets: $20-$300; available at Tropicana Field box office, raysbaseball.com, surcharge of up to $5 within five hours of game.Promotion: Mascot socks for kids 14 a...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Marc Topkinís takeaways from Raysí 10-1 Saturday win over Twins

Marc Topkinís takeaways from Raysí 10-1 Saturday win over Twins

* Is it time to take the leap and believe this is the real Blake Snell? He talked a good game this spring and pitched well in his debut, but that rough second outing raised old doubts. But a good outing in Chicago and two dominant ones on the homesta...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Rays Tales: How low can this team go compared to those Devil Rays days?

Rays Tales: How low can this team go compared to those Devil Rays days?

When the Rays, in the opening weekend of their 20th anniversary celebration season, brought back and honored the inaugural 1998 Devil Rays squad, it got us thinking unexpected thoughts, such as which was a better team:The first one, or the current on...
Published: 04/21/18
Rays Journal: Team effort pays off in 10-1 win over Twins

Rays Journal: Team effort pays off in 10-1 win over Twins

ST. PETERSBURG – Let's be clear here, the Rays still have a long way to go, and a lot of ground to make up.But seeing them play like they did Saturday in beating the Twins 10-1, putting on a solid all-around show in cobbling their first three-g...
Published: 04/21/18
Rays will go forth with four starters

Rays will go forth with four starters

ST. PETERSBURG — Three weeks was enough for the Rays to officially ditch their three-man rotation plan.Starting Sunday, they will go forth with Yonny Chirinos as their fourth starter.Which is a five-star idea.The flaws in the three-man plan ...
Published: 04/21/18
For starters: Rays vs. Twins, with a familiar look

For starters: Rays vs. Twins, with a familiar look

UPDATE, 4:17: CF Kevin Kiermaier was back at the Trop, and at one point on the field with a glove on his left hand and protective wrapping on his right, the day after surgery to repair a torn UCL in his right thumb. He said the surgery went "as good ...
Published: 04/21/18
Rays will go forth with Chirinos as fourth starter

Rays will go forth with Chirinos as fourth starter

The Rays have made it official – or as official as things can be with them – in naming RHP Yonny Chirinos as the fourth starter in their rotation.The Rays had been using three, and two "Bullpen Day" slots when playing five straight days.B...
Published: 04/21/18
Archerís sparkling start precedes surreal finish

Archerís sparkling start precedes surreal finish

By now, we presume you've had a few hours to digest the Rays' improbable 10-inning triumph Friday night.So instead of rehashing the whole bizarre body of work, how 'bout a closer look at the workmanship. Specifically, Chris Archer's.Partially lost in...
Published: 04/21/18
Now Batting in Double A: Biggio, Bichette and Guerrero

Now Batting in Double A: Biggio, Bichette and Guerrero

HARTFORD, Conn. — Craig Breslow is 37 years old, with a dozen years of experience as a left-handed reliever in the major leagues. He is pitching now for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, just getting to know his teammates. In their openin...
Published: 04/21/18