Tampa Bay Rays prospect Dayron Varona reunited with his family in Cuba for the first time in three years when the team arrived in the country on Sunday.
He was met at the airport by his niece and other family members ahead of the Rays’ game against the Cuban national team on Tuesday.
“When I left Cuba, I never thought I’d be able to go back in such a short time and not only go back, but play baseball in Cuba again,” Varona told ESPN Deportes. “I never thought that would happen for me.”
Varona defected from Cuba in 2013 and signed with the Rays last season. He hit .286 with 11 home runs and 60 RBIs in his first minor league season, which earned him an invitation to big league spring training this season.
Varona was the only player not on the 40-man roster to travel to Cuba, but as he is their only Cuban-born player, manager Kevin Cash was happy to include him on the trip, he told ESPN. The team officially received permission from the Cuban government to bring Varona into the country on Saturday.
The Rays are the first major league team to travel to Cuba in 17 years, since the Baltimore Orioles played there in 1999. President Barack Obama will be in attendance for the exhibition game on Tuesday.
- Erin Flynn