PORT CHARLOTTE — Players union chief Tony Clark said Friday there are still some unresolved issues regarding the Rays' planned March 20-22 visit to Cuba for an exhibition, but he remains "hopeful and optimistic" the historic trip will take place.
"There obviously are challenges," Clark said after meeting with the Rays on his annual tour of camps. "There always are challenges related to events, particularly international events with travel and the teams and the facilities and the like. We've been able to work through those and we continue to work those where the expectation is in the next month or so to be in a position where the line is moving and we'll enjoy the game in Cuba."
The condition of the playing field at the Estadio Latinoamericano has been an issue according to others involved in the talks. Clark said that during a goodwill visit in December he and other baseball officials "got a feel" for the facilities and that in these situations player safety is paramount.
"We've had a number of folks who were able to appreciate anything that may need to be done in that regard," Clark said. "Then as you start to get into it you realize there are a lot of logistics and a lot of people involved and a lot of concerns and a lot of sensitivities and those often time take a while to work through.
"I think in a perfect world you have everything settled well in advance. But in a not-so-perfect world but what could be a perfect event sometimes it takes a little bit longer."
He also said the union if sensitive to minimizing the disruption to the Rays' efforts to be ready to open the season April 3.
ONLY THE LONEY: 1B James Loney had received considerable attention for reporting in such good shape, though said he only lost about 12 pounds. He credited a cardio-intensive workout regimen and a change in diet, eating healthier and smarter, such as no carbs after 7 p.m.
Though the Rays seem to have pushed him onto the trade market by acquiring Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce to share first base, Loney said he is preparing like he normally would any spring to be part of the Rays team.
"If you play well enough you're either going to play here or play somewhere else, bottom line," Loney said.
SWING CLUB: Manager Kevin Cash said he and hitting coach Derek Shelton felt Friday's opening session of live batting was the best they had seen in their careers, primarily due to the hitters continuing the aggressive approach they showed at the end of last season and swinging away. Cash said he also was impressed by the strike-throwing ability of the pitchers.
The curved batting cages, called turtles, were rolled back behind the plates to give the hitters and pitchers more of a game-like feel.
PITCHING IN: Prospect LHP Blake Snell, after an initial adjustment to get the ball down, was impressive in his batting practice session. "It's pretty easy,'' Cash said. "He just looks like he's flipping it in there. Every hitter comes back and says how quick it gets on them." … LHP Drew Smyly, who had shoulder problems last spring that led to two DL stints, said his first bullpen session went well. "It's just fun to pitch against hitters again,' he said. "It went great. A good place to start." … RHP Ryan Webb broke OF/DH Corey Dickerson's bat.
MISCELLANY: OF Steven Souza Jr. said his intercostal strain continues to improve, but he has yet to resume any baseball activities and is hoping to return to action sometime next week. … Cash said pitching coach Jim Hickey was still working on the pitching plans for Wednesday's exhibition opener against Washington.