PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — When the Tampa Bay Rays take on the Cuban national team in Havana two weeks from now, there will be one prospect from the Florida-based baseball franchise watching with particular interest.
Catcher Daniel De La Calle, currently in spring training with the Rays in Port Charlotte, left Cuba with his family when he was three-years-old, moving to Miami to start a new life. The 23-year-old has never been back to his homeland and the upcoming game has him imagining what a return would feel like.
“I would love to wear the Rays (uniform) and go over there, even if I didn’t play, just to be in the dugout. Just to be around my home country,” said the Florida State alumni. “I haven’t been back since I left…I would really love to go.”
La Calle played for Hudson Valley Renegades last season, drafted on the back of an ACC Championship year with the Seminoles, after turning down the Texas Rangers, who drafted him in the 33rd round in 2013.
The Rays’ ninth-round pick in 2015 is optimistic about the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the two nations he calls home.
“I think it’s good that (the United States) is opening up relationships with Cuba,” said the six-foot-two catcher. “I think it should have been done a long time ago.
“Playing ball brings countries together. Hopefully baseball can bring the whole world together.”
The exhibition game on March 22, which will be attended by U.S. President Barack Obama during his historic visit to the island, will be the first by a major-league team since the Orioles defeated the Cuban national team in 1999.
It will be played at Cuba’s largest stadium, Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana.
When asked about putting in a request to travel with the Rays to the game in the Cuban capital, La Calle said with a wry grin, “I don’t want to ask too many questions – I’m just here to get the work done.”