PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Cuban-born outfielder Dayron Varona highlighted the roster the Rays announced on Tuesday of players who will make the trip to Cuba for next week's game against the Cuban National Team.
"Obviously, this is a very special opportunity for me," said Varona via team translator George Pappas. "Clearly, it's difficult to have been away from my homeland as long as I have been, so I'm really looking forward to this special opportunity and thankful for the opportunity."
Varona is the only non-roster player to be making the trip. Rays manager Kevin Cash said several players went into his office and stated Varona's case in the event the Rays weren't going to include him. Cash said Varona's status never was in question.
"My gosh, the guy's been over here for what, two years, and to have the opportunity to see his family," Cash said. "And it speaks volumes to the players in that clubhouse who have walked in here and given a vote that they would like to see him go."
"And it means the world to me that they did that because this is really the opportunity of a lifetime to return to my homeland," Varona said. "I just want to say, 'Thanks,' again to them and the front office for giving me this chance."
Varona said he hopes to see his family, and he also expressed the hope that Cuban fans will treat him like one of their own.
Matt Moore will be the starting pitcher for the Rays in the game that takes place on March 22 at 2 p.m. ET.
"I think it's really cool," Moore said. "Some guys are probably going to get to go but may not play, but that will still be awesome. For me to get to compete and get to do that, I think it's something I'll definitely appreciate from here on out."
As for the competitive aspect of the contest, Moore smiled.
"I would assume this is a friendly, like they say in soccer," he said.
Thirty-four players will make the trip along with the coaching staff. The Rays have not yet set their 28-man active roster for the game.
Jake Odorizzi will not make the trip and will pitch in a Minor League game on Monday. Erasmo Ramirez will not make the trip either as he is slated to pitch against the Twins when the team returns on March 23.
"They understand as exciting as this is for us, we still have to get them ready for their season, for our season," Cash said.
No additional players will be added to the roster unless there are injuries.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.