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Tampa Bay Rays Will Play Cuban National Team in Havana

by Phil Helsel /  / Updated 

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The Tampa Bay Rays will play an exhibition game against the Cuban national team in Havana later this month, marking the first visit by a Major League Baseball team to the Communist island in nearly 20 years.

The Rays announced the March 22 game on its Twitter page on Tuesday.

Dozens of workers are working Estadio Latinoamericano, called by some the Yankee Stadium of Cuba in reference to its status in baseball there, to get the facility ready for the game.

President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama will travel Havana for a historic visit on March 21, and Obama is expected to attend the game. "Play ball!" The president Tweeted Tuesday.

Related: The Rolling Stones to Play Free Show in Cuba

The MLB game and the Obamas’ visit comes more than a year after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they would normalize relations between the two countries after five decades.

"During a time of historic change, we appreciate the constructive role afforded by our shared passion for the game, and we look forward to experiencing Cuba's storied baseball tradition and the passion of its many loyal fans," MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. said in a statement.

The U.S. and Cuba severed diplomatic relations in 1961, two years after forces led by Fidel Castro overthrew the government and established a communist state.

Related: Amid Thaw in Relations, More Cubans Flee to U.S.

The last time an MLB franchise team played a game against the Cuban national team in Cuba was on March 28, 1999. The Orioles won in Havana, but the Cuban team beat them in a second game at Camden Yards to split the series 1-1.

The Estadio Latinoamericano is the country's largest baseball stadium, and seats 55,000. It was built in 1946 and was called "Estadio del Cerro" but the name was changed after the revolution.

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