Havana — In a landmark game attended by American President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro, Tampa Bay defeated the Cuban national team, 4-1, on Tuesday in the first visit by a major league team to the communist island since 1999.
James Loney homered and drove in three, and Matt Moore and the Tampa Bay pitchers shut out the Cubans until Rudy Reyes homered in the ninth inning.
But the game will be remembered less for the score than for the two men who sat in the the front row at Estadio Latinoamericano.
The near-capacity crowd roared as Obama and Castro entered and walked toward their seats right behind home plate, waving to fans and greeting other dignitaries.
As the countries try to heal more than 50 years of Cold War animosity, Obama and Castro sitting side-by-side was a remarkable sight.
Obama wore a white shirt and sunglasses, Castro more formal in a blazer.
The leaders took part when the fans tried to get “the wave” going.
Obama later signaled safe when Kevin Kiermaier safely slid home for the first run, then shook hands with Castro.
It was the first time since the Orioles visited during spring training 17 years ago that a big league club played in Cuba.
Rarely has so much pomp and circumstance accompanied an exhibition.
Former All-Stars Derek Jeter and Dave Winfield and commissioner Rob Manfred were among the president’s greeters. Secretary of State John Kerry was also in the VIP box.
Before the first pitch, Rays players walked over from the dugout to say hello and passed flowers and small Cuban flags through the netting to first lady Michelle Obama and first daughter Sasha.
“Appreciate you guys,” President Obama said.
Obama shared an extended handshake with ace pitcher Chris Archer, who once was a minor leaguer for the Cubs. He gave Obama, a White Sox fan, a glove owned by Moore.
“We share a national pastime — la pelota,” Obama said earlier in a speech to Cuban people and broadcast across the island.
Sports “can change attitudes in ways that sometimes politicians can’t ... or a speech can’t,” Obama told ESPN in an interview broadcast live.
Obama and Castro were gone by the third inning — with Obama heading to the airport to fly for a state visit to Argentina.
“We won’t experience anything like this again,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said afterward.
Admission was free, and tickets were distributed to Cubans through organizations such as student groups and workplaces.
Luis Tiant, a three-time All-Star, and Pedro Luis Lazo, who had a long career with Cuban club Pinar del Rio and the national team, threw out the first pitches.
The trip was also a homecoming for Rays right fielder Dayron Varona, who was born in Havana and spent seven years playing in Cuba. In a symbolic moment, Varona was first to bat. He flied out to first, to polite applause.
He said after the game “playing baseball here is a really beautiful thing, very impressive.”
The stadium observed a minute of silence before the game in memory of the Brussels attacks.
Around the horn
Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier will be out 10-14 weeks after fracturing his right tibia.
Ethier, the projected starter in left field, was hurt after fouling a ball off his shin last week against the Diamondbacks.
Team officials said Ethier won’t require surgery.
Ethier hit .294 with 14 homers and 53 RBIs in 395 at-bats last season. He also had seven triples and a .366 on-base percentage.
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