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Cuba trip, flight delay lead to extra bonding for Rays players

In addition to bringing home cigars, coffee, rum and a pretty memorable "W," the Rays felt that a significant benefit of their historic and enjoyable trip to Cuba would be the team bonding experience.

And that was before they spent seven hours on planes to make the 46-minute flight home, landing in Tampa just before 5 Wednesday morning.

"A little glitch at the end," manager Kevin Cash said before the game in Fort Myers. "But that's okay; we adjust."

After an initial delay Tuesday in boarding, which is the reality in leaving undersized, understaffed Jose Marti International Airport, the primary problem was a mechanical issue with circuit breakers on their Eastern Airlines jet.

After three hours, it was determined the plane wasn't repairable, so around midnight the Rays were given a choice:

Find rooms for 50-plus people to spend the night at a hotel and come back in the morning to go through passport control and processing again, or sit on the broken plane while another jet — and another crew — could be found in Miami to fly to Havana and get them in an estimated three to four hours.

Baseball operations president Matt Silverman and Cash made the decision to stay put. Then the players, coaches and front office staff made the best of it.

"That," Cash said, "was because we had such a good time in Cuba."

Players laughed, joked and engaged in the usual clubhouse-style humor, with Logan Morrison leading the way. ("There was a lot of comedy," Rays vice president Rick Vaughn said.) Some listened to music. Others slept. Food selection was limited, so Lays potato chips become somewhat of a delicacy.

"We are a bit delusional," pitcher Chris Archer wrote on Twitter around 3 a.m.

With two of the only working cellphones, reliever Steve Geltz and Vaughn went down the aisle offering their services so players could get word home of the delay.

Of additional concern, a number of Rays weren't able to shower after the game due to plumbing problems in the cramped clubhouse at Estadio Latinoamericano.

They switched planes, waited for their equipment to be transferred and took off shortly after 4, landing in Tampa just before 5. They went through customs, then took a bus back to Tropicana Field — where many had left their cars Sunday — arriving around 6.

"If our players didn't know each other well, they sure do now," Vaughn said. "Considering they were awake for about 24 hours, including the final third of that on a plane that wasn't going anywhere, our guys handled it very well."

The player/staff plane was the second of the Rays' contingent. A Miami Air International charter flight carrying team ownership, front office executives, sponsors, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and some media — plus hitchhiking players union chief Tony Clark and Hall of Famer Dave Winfield — was delayed only a few hours, getting back to Tampa around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday

That holdup was apparently procedural, the pilot at one point announcing they just needed final approval, but only one person was on duty to stamp documents. (Clubhouse/equipment manager Jose Fernandez didn't make either flight and returned Wednesday.)

The trip to Cuba was already a disruption — though not totally unwelcomed — to their spring training routine, and the extensive delay caused further changes.

Most of the position players who went to Cuba were scheduled to work out at the Trop on Wednesday, then play in tonight's game against the Yankees in Tampa, but that workout was cancelled. Some players may go to Port Charlotte today and take part in an intrasquad game featuring Archer, the opening day starter, or Archer may work in a minor-league game. Either way, Matt Andriese will face the Yankees.

And the team that was sent to Fort Myers to play — and that beat — the Twins was made up of nonroster and minor-league players, though Cash and third-base coach Charlie Montoyo did win a road warrior award for making the trip to watch projected No. 5 starter Erasmo Ramirez, who worked six strong innings in relief.

Standing on the field in Havana after Tuesday's game, not knowing they wouldn't get to their beds for more than 12 hours, Silverman said the trip had already been beneficial.

"We all had this great bonding experience to come see a new culture, to experience the baseball culture here and really grow together as a team," he said. "Wonderful game. Obviously, the score worked out. Great atmosphere. And ready to get back to spring training now.

"I think everyone enjoyed it. …We'll remember this. And I think it will actually carry into the season. This type of environment, the energy, the camaraderie, I think it's going to help set the table for the season."

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Cuba trip, flight delay lead to extra bonding for Rays players 03/23/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 11:35pm]
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