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Rays' Moore familiarizes himself with Havana field

Matt Moore, who’s set to start today’s game in Havana, gets himself familiar with the mound, field and clubhouse.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Matt Moore, who’s set to start today’s game in Havana, gets himself familiar with the mound, field and clubhouse.

HAVANA — Rays LHP Matt Moore didn't want any surprises.

So Moore, who is starting today against the Cuban National Team, came out to Estadio Latinoamericano on Monday not just to go through a light workout but to take a look around, getting a sense of the clubhouse, the field and the view from the mound off which he will be throwing.

"So when I go to bed (Monday night) I wake up in the morning knowing what to expect," Moore said.

Moore, who started Game 1 of the 2011 AL Division Series as a 22-year-old rookie, said he wasn't nervous in the sense of winning the game but more so in anticipation of playing a big role in such a historic event.

"I'm just more excited (for today) in terms of how things are actually going to play out," he said.

Moore was trying to figure out where U.S. President Barack Obama, who is expected to watch the first few innings, will be sitting.

"I did bring an extra glove just in case he needs one," Moore said. But if so, Moore said he would hope for something in return. "Maybe a pen, or a cuff link. A presidential cuff link."

CLASSIC MODE: RHP Chris Archer was disappointed today wasn't his turn to pitch, but he is hoping to return to international competition next spring by playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Archer said from details he heard Monday, he wants in, and now it will be up to the Rays, who have never been keen on letting their stars participate. "The decision is on the team," he said. "The eagerness and willingness to play is there on my end."

HI VARONA: Cuban-born OF Dayron Varona's trip was already worthwhile when he got to the hotel lobby and had a tearful reunion with his young niece, sister and other family members he didn't know when, or if, he would see again after leaving the island three years ago.

That excitement will continue today as Varona — who played at Estadio Latinoamericano during his seven seasons in Cuba, primarily with Camaguey — will start in rightfield and bat leadoff for the Rays.

"We thought it would be really smart and just a great thing for Dayron to get an opportunity to play," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We know he's going to have some family in the building."

HEY BUDDY, GOTTA SIGHTSEE: So why did retired Yankees star and Tampa resident Derek Jeter come to Cuba for this event?

Because Joe Torre asked.

Jeter said when his former Yankees manager, and current MLB exec, invited him, he decided it was a great opportunity to check out the homeland of the numerous Cuban big-leaguers he played with and against, and he was headed out Monday on a grand tour. "I wanted to come see firsthand the country of Cuba and how passionate they are about baseball," Jeter said.

FIELD WORK: The Rays were impressed with the look of the stadium field, which had been massively renovated in the past few weeks with 60 tons of clay brought in by barge, along with the tarp, batting cage and screens.

They also were intrigued by the size of the stadium, which holds about 55,000 — many of whom will be sitting on concrete with no seats or even bleachers — without an upper deck. C Rene Rivera said he expects it to be loud, as the Cuban fans — who are attending on an invitation-only basis as tickets were not sold — are typically festive, banging drums, chanting and cheering from the first pitch on.

MISCELLANY: Cuban pitchers Pedro Laza, who starred for the national team, and Luis Tiant, a three-time All-Star in the majors, will handle first-pitch duties. … The Rays were chosen randomly from seven teams that wanted to make the trip but have been such good representatives, commissioner Rob Manfred said he feels like "MLB won the lottery."

Rays lineup

Dayron Varona RF

Brad Miller SS

Evan Longoria 3B

Corey Dickerson DH

Logan Forsythe 2B

Kevin Kiermaier CF

Desmond Jennings LF

James Loney 1B

Rene Rivera C

Matt Moore P

Quote of the day

"I'm not smart enough to answer any political questions."

Rays manager Kevin Cash, when asked about the U.S. trade embargo

Factoids

. The Rays are the first big-league team to play in Cuba since the Orioles in 1999.

. With Barack Obama expected to be in the stands, this will be the first time the Rays have played before a sitting U.S. President.

. With Estadio Latinoamericano holding 55,000 fans (and much of it without seats), today will be one of the largest crowds the Rays have played in front of. The biggest? 55,771 at old Yankee Stadium in 2002, 55,035 again there in 2007 and 55,000 in Tokyo in 2004.

. This is the seventh time the Rays have played outside of the United States and Canada: two exhibitions in Caracas, Venezuela in 2000; two exhibitions in Mexico City in 2001; two regular-season games in Tokyo in 2004.

Marc Topkin, Times staff writer

Rays' Moore familiarizes himself with Havana field 03/21/16 [Last modified: Monday, March 21, 2016 9:18pm]
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