President Obama Explains Why He Attended MLB Exhibition Game in Cuba Despite Brussels Attacks

The Tampa Bay Rays face off against the Cuban National Team.

March 22, 2016, 4:01 PM

— -- President Obama explained his decision to attend a Major League Baseball exhibition game in Cuba today between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team, following this morning's terrorist attacks in Belgium.

"The whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people's ordinary lives," President Obama said in an interview with ESPN during the game, noting that "it's always a challenge when you have a terrorist attack anywhere in the world."

The president added that one of his "proudest moments as president" was when Boston united in the wake of the attack on the city's marathon, complimenting Red Sox David Ortiz's in particular for declaring that Boston would not be intimidated.

"When Ortiz went out and said probably the only time that America didn't have a problem with somebody, a person on live TV, was when he talked about Boston, how strong it was and that it was not going to be intimidated," Obama said.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has been one of the loudest critics of the president for continuing his trip to Cuba in the wake of the attacks in Brussels, calling on the president to suspend his trip and return home to the United States or travel to Belgium’s capital.

“President Obama should be back in America keeping this country safe. Or president Obama should be planning to travel to Brussels," Cruz said today at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Three explosions hit the city’s international airport this morning and a subway station in what the Belgian federal prosecutor classified as terror attacks that left dozens dead, with three Americans among the nearly 200 injured.

While much of the president’s two-day trip to Cuba has been marked by public disagreements between the U.S. and Cuba, the president highlighted the exhibition baseball game -- and the shared love of the game by Cubans and Americans alike -- as a recognition of "good will" between two nations and a sign of progress.

Obama pointed to baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who broke barriers in the U.S. as one of the first African-American Major League Baseball players, as one example of "the power of sports" to bring change.

"It can change attitudes sometimes in ways that a politician can never change, that a speech can’t change," he said. "All of those kids who started growing up watching the Brooklyn Dodgers, suddenly they’re rooting for a black man on the field and how that affects their attitudes laying the groundwork for the civil rights movement that’s a legacy that all of us have benefited from, black and white and Latino and Asian."

The game is the first MLB exhibition game to be played in Cuba in nearly 20 years.

President Obama was seated with Cuban President Raul Castro at the game. The president's wife and daughters were also at the game.

Prior to the game's start, a moment of silence was held in recognition of the attacks on Belgium.