Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For Cuban baseball players, beating Rays would be huge


Much has been said, politicized and philosophized upon leading up to today's historic exhibition game between the Rays and the Cuban National Team.

But here's a question that's a little tougher to answer:

Does it matter if the Rays win?

"We try to win every game we play," manager Kevin Cash said Monday.

In theory, this one doesn't count.

The Rays are still in prep mode for their April 3 season opener, and this is just another spring training game — albeit in a slightly more exotic location than Port Charlotte.

Starter Matt Moore won't go more than six innings, most if not all of the regulars will be subbed out of the game and the Rays are planning to err on the side of caution in most moments of decision, especially knowing the Cuban players are in postseason form, with their playoffs paused for this week's event and the National Team assembled like an All-Star squad.

So does it matter?

"I don't think so," ace starter Chris Archer said. "In all reality, we're still trying to get our feet under us. Matt hasn't pitched that long and our hitters haven't seen that much pitching. We're definitely going to try and compete and give the effort and the energy. But win or lose, I don't think it's really that big a deal. I think we're smart enough to know this is spring training for us."

But there is a matter of pride in play, and on the international level, and that's something Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg acknowledged can be a factor.

So does it matter?

"It always matters if you win," Sternberg said. "If you're asking me if I would trade one for a regular-season one, no, those still count. But three years from now, 12 years from now, 20, when you and I are talking, you want to say, 'You did win that game in Cuba, right?' "

The game should mean something for the Cuban players, who would relish the chance to beat a major-league team as a way to show the quality of their play.

"It would be a huge thing if Cuba were to beat a major-league team," Cuban-born Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo said last week. "It has happened in the past. The Cuban players are going to be very motivated."

Plus, individually they will welcome the opportunity to show the Rays, and the other teams, that their skills are worthy of a big contract if they opted to leave.

And that has created at least a curiosity among the Rays coaches as to how aggressively and intensively the Cubans will play. Pitching up and in? Sliding in spikes high?

Moore said he expects it to be "a friendly," like an exhibition soccer match. But Mike Bordick, who played on the Orioles team that split a pair of 1999 exhibitions, said that while not "like a Rocky fight or anything like it, it was really competitive."

The Rays' No. 1 goal, everyone from Sternberg and Cash on down has said, is to get through the game healthy and get back to Tampa Bay to resume normal prep for the season.

But in addition to the cigars and the rum they bought Monday, coming home with a W would be a pretty memorable souvenir, too.

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

For Cuban baseball players, beating Rays would be huge 03/21/16 [Last modified: Monday, March 21, 2016 10:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Thursday's Rays-Yankees game

    The Heater

    The 10 strikeouts look flashy, but RHP Chris Archer was not his sharpest Thursday. He allowed three runs on seven hits, including three straight in the two-run second and a Gary Sanchez homer in the third, and lasted only six innings, throwing 102 pitches.

  2. Rays fall to Yankees in 11 on Brett Gardner homer (w/ video)

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — The front office did its part Thursday, making two trades to bolster the roster in a push for the playoffs. But the Rays didn't follow up in a frustrating 6-5 11-inning loss to the Yankees.

    Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge stands on the mound and can only watch as the Yankees’ Brett Gardner starts to circle the bases after his walkoff home run leading off the 11th inning.
  3. Believe it! Rays are buyers, trade for reliever Dan Jennings and 1B/DH Lucas Duda

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — Dan Jennings' ability to render lefty hitters useless with a sinker that gets beaten into the ground and Lucas Duda's power to blast baseballs off and over outfield walls should make the Rays better.

    Lucas Duda
  4. Bucs' direction is decidedly up for first time in several years


    TAMPA — If you want to see a team give the Heisman Trophy stiff-arm to expectations, check out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Tight end O.J. Howard, left, the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, was brought in to give QB Jameis Winston another big-play option.
  5. Rays at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. Friday, New York

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Yankees

    7:05, Yankee Stadium, New York

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Austin Pruitt (50) in the dugout during the ninth inning of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, April 2, 2017. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 7-3.