The Tampa Bay Rays are in Cuba right now for a historic game against the Cuban National Team that will ceremonially end the embargo between the United States and the Raul Castro-led nation.
Normalized relations between these countries will mean reunions of people who left Cuba for the U.S. and their families still on the island, such as Rays minor league outfielder Dayron Varona.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) March 21, 2016
Varona defected from Cuba about three years ago after a successful pro career with los Ganaderos de Camaguey. He has never played about Double-A ball in the U.S. and isn’t on the Rays’ 40-man roster, but was tabbed to journey to Cuba thanks in part to lobbying from stars Evan Longoria and Chris Archer.
“It will mean everything to him,” Archer said when asked about Varona’s opportunity to travel with the team to Cuba. “He hasn’t seen his family for three years. I hope he gets the opportunity to go running out to the outfield as a starter and have 40,000 or 50,000 fans screaming for him. It will be a surreal moment for him. He’s got a lot of guts if he manages to hold back the tears, because it will be a special moment.”
The ESPN story is full of incredible quotes from Varona:
“Look, it’s something that, when I get home, I still can’t believe it. I’m set here and I can’t believe any of it,” Varona told ESPNDeportes.com in an interview conducted in Spanish at the Rays’ training facility in Port Charlotte.
“I just can’t believe it. When I get off the plane and set foot on Cuban soil, that’s when I’m going to believe it.”
“I don’t know who was behind me going to Cuba,” he continued. “I’m part of the Tampa Bay team. I’m in major league training camp. It just happened to be Tampa’s turn. I don’t know who was behind it. I’ve no idea. But whoever it was, I’m very grateful to them.”
“It’s amazing,” Varona said when asked about the support of his teammates. “Longoria, Archer, the manager and other players on the team, who I’ve only known for around 20 days, have supported me so that I can go back to my country.”
“When I left Cuba, I never thought I’d be able to go back in such a short time and not only go back, but play baseball in Cuba again. I never thought that would happen for me.”
Maybe the craziest part of this is that Varona went three years without seeing his family and considers himself lucky to have been away “such a short time.” There are Cuban-Americans who haven’t seen their relatives in decades who could soon get the same opportunity Varona did.
The game between the Rays and the Cuban National Team will take place Wednesday, but for Varona the highlight has surely already happened.