Rays visit Puerto Rico, provide hurricane aid

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Rays reliever Xavier Cedeno, bench coach Charlie Montoyo and a handful of Rays officials were part of a humanitarian mission to Ponce, Puerto Rico. When the team-chartered 737 jet left Tampa, it was carrying 2,200 pounds of medical and emergency relief supplies. When it touched down at Tampa International Airport on Wednesday evening, it was carrying Cedeno and Montoyo’s family members, a pair of cancer patients and their caregivers and an invaluable biological data bank used for cancer research.

The mission, which also included St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman and state representative Janet Cruz, was a joint effort between the Rays, the University of South Florida and the Moffitt Cancer Center to bring aid to people of Puerto Rico who have been dealing with the devastation caused last month by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Nearly 85 percent of the island’s inhabitants are still without electricity and over half of the population is without cell phone service.

“We talk a lot about great community partners but I can’t say enough about this organization and everything they do in the Tampa Bay region to make this a better community,” Kriseman said.

An additional 2,500 pounds of supplies will be headed by barge to the island nation on Thursday thanks, in large part, to the financial backing of the Rays organization.

“That’s Tampa Bay,” Cruz said. “That’s who we are. It doesn’t surprise me at all. It was one phone call to the Rays about the devastation that was happening … and the wheels were in motion by the end of the week.”

Perhaps the biggest save came from the rescuing of over 3,000 biological samples that were part of a cancer research program by the Ponce Health Sciences University. The tissue data bank, which represented over a decade of research, was being held in a cold storage facility that was being run completely by generators. The biobank program was safely transferred to the Moffitt facilities in Tampa.

“What you are seeing today is an example of the best we can do as Americans as a country,” Moffitt chief medical officer Robert Keenan said. “It’s true evidence of what we can do when we come together.”

Throughout the process, the spirit of Puerto Rican Hall of Fame outfielder and devoted humanitarian Roberto Clemente was a driving force in the efforts. Clemente’s career was cut short after he died in a plane crash delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua in 1972. Members of the Rays organization donned the Clemente commemorative jerseys that were worn as part of the team’s Roberto Clemente Day celebration earlier this season during the local supply collection efforts.

“If you are Puerto Rican, you grew up knowing that you should be the best you can be and also give back because of Roberto Clemente,” Rays director of public affairs Rafaela Amador said. “That spirit was absolutely with us.”

After a brief but emotional reunion with his family, Cedeno, a native of Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, stayed behind to help in the rescue. Amador, also a native of Puerto Rico, was able to witness the reunions for Cedeno and Montoyo after their families had extremely limited communication over the past three weeks.

“There was no way to describe the experience except to say that that is what love looks like,” Amador said.

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB,com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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