Cash, Rays prep for unique game in Cuba

Cash, Rays prep for unique game in Cuba

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The boxes filled with goodwill donations are stacked in the equipment room at Charlotte Sports Park, waiting to be loaded onto the plane that will carry the Rays to Cuba on Sunday evening.

It's just another reminder that their exhibition against the Cuban National Team at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana on Tuesday is quickly approaching. But while there's been a lot of discussion about the larger implications of this historic trip, the baseball aspect of it has been a little overlooked.

For example, this is clearly not just another game.

"I've heard that ESPN is going to be pretty involved," said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "And good for our players. They're going to get to be in there, they're going to have some live in-game interviews. It's going to be unique, because the interaction is going to be different from a regular ballgame."

Sanchez on Rays' trip to Cuba

There are also patriotic implications. The Rays are representing the United States. That part, Cash said, he's not paying any attention to at all.

"I wouldn't speak for the players, but that's not my approach. When the bell rings, that's when we'll start thinking about winning," Cash said. "First of all, you want to win the game. But you also want a lot of people to enjoy the experience. I would imagine most guys will come in and play six or seven innings. Then we'll have some other guys backing them up. There might be a handful that play nine. We'll just have to see where we're at at that point."

That doesn't mean the manager isn't aware of the symbolic importance that will be attached to these nine innings.

"We're excited to go," Cash said. "You get to go down to a country that's extremely passionate about baseball. I know our players are really excited to get down there. Meet the Cuban people and [hear about] their experiences and the joy that baseball brings to all of us.

"It's an honor. We've got a lot of guys we think are positive ambassadors for baseball. Evan Longoria. Chris Archer. Kevin Kiermaier. These guys are becoming household names. So I think it's great for the Tampa Bay Rays organization. It's an honor for us to go represent Major League Baseball."

Added president of baseball operations Matt Silverman: "I think the whole clubhouse is getting more and more excited about it as the details have come into focus. Some of the questions have been answered. The travel should be pretty straightforward.

"Major League Baseball is doing everything it can to make it a memorable event for the players and the staff. And it's going to be a nice little break to make a little road trip, experience a new culture, play a baseball game and then turn our attention to getting ready for Opening Day."

Worth noting

• Right-hander Matt Andriese pitched three innings in a Minor League game at the Charlotte Sports Complex on Friday, allowing two runs on three hits while striking out three. Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez threw five innings in a Minor League game at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota, Fla. He gave up one run on six hits, striking out four. Andriese is competing for a spot in the bullpen, while Ramirez has been penciled in as the fifth starter.

• Longoria, who fouled a pitch off his left shin on Thursday, could have played Friday, but he was held out as a precaution.

"He's just being smart," Cash said. "I'm sure he'd be playing at any other point. But, sore shin, it doesn't make any sense."

Both Longoria and outfielder Corey Dickerson (blister on right hand) are expected to return to the lineup Saturday against the Orioles at Charlotte Sports Park.

"We're trying not to cause more of a negative effect," Cash said. "So [Dickerson] will take BP again and then we anticipate he'll be back out there."

• Archer is donating $10,000 worth of equipment to support Port Charlotte High School's baseball and softball teams and the school's physical education program. It's the third straight year Archer has partnered with the national non-profit Good Sports. The official presentation will be March 25.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.