On Tuesday, Major League Baseball is taking a historic step in its relations with Cuba: the Tampa Bay Rays will play an exhibition game against Cuba's national team. It's not the first time MLB has set down on Cuban soil, but there's much more at stake in this game, both from a diplomatic standpoint and a professional baseball perspective.
For those reasons, it's a game worth paying attention to -- even if you only have a casual interest in baseball. Not to worry, we rundown everything you need to know about this all-important exhibition game.
Obama Will Be In Attendance
President Barack Obama is touring Cuba in what represents a landmark step forward in U.S.-Cuba relations. He's the first sitting president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge. Obama's entire family is with him, and they'll all attend the Rays-Cuba baseball game Tuesday.
The game will likely serve as a nice photo opp and relaxing diversion for Obama, but the fact that the game is on his itinerary highlights the role of baseball in the two countries' relationship: Over decades of tense relations, baseball has been a rare common ground, if also a divisive issue (more on that later).
MLB Has Been Here Before
You might think this is the first time Major League Baseball has been in Cuba since before Fidel Castro rose to power. You would be wrong. In fact, the last MLB exhibition game held on the island was in 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles visited Cuba.
As The Baltimore Sun reports, the 1999 game was extremely difficult to organize, given that the U.S. and Cuba had sworn off diplomatic relations. Needless to say, things were much easier this time around.
Tapping Talent Pipeline
Major League Baseball has some prescient interests in this game, and they go beyond merely spreading goodwill and generating good publicity. The league is hoping to build a better pipeline for talent coming from Cuba. In particular, it wants to create a transfer system that allows Cuban stars to play in the majors without having to defect from their home country.
As USA Today reports, such a system has been met with some resistance from Cuban officials, but the political climate is better than ever to facilitate a possible agreement. The newspaper cites this transfer system as one of the top objectives of the exhibition arrangement.
No, Fidel Castro Wasn't A Baseball Star
Castro liked to fancy himself as a great baseball player, and rumors have suggested he was scouted by Major League Baseball teams. But the Los Angeles Times debunks this myth, saying that Castro wasn't anything special on the baseball field. A right-handed pitcher, Castro failed to make the University of Havana's baseball team after playing in high school. He wasn't on MLB's radar.
But Castro did meet Tommy Lasorda at the start of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
Bat Flips Are Welcome
Bat-flipping after home runs has upset a lot of people back in the states, starting with Goose Gossage. But in Cuba, there's no such controversy. In fact, it's the opposite: bat-flips and flamboyance are embraced as part of the game, where baseball is an entertainment as much as it's a tradition.
Similarly, don't count on recharging your batteries between innings. In Cuba, loud, energetic music is played during game breaks. The goal? Keep fans awake and engaged. Fans are expected to contribute to the music and noise, so plan on banging a can, clapping your hands or doing what you can to build a raucous, fun environment.
All sides are hoping for a fun, trouble-free game at the ballpark. If all goes well, it could lay the foundation for other changes -- including a possible influx of Cuban talent.