After 16 years, Cuba and U.S. will play baseball

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After 16 years, Cuba and U.S. will play baseball

From Comcast SportsNet
HAVANA (AP) -- A team of college stars representing the United States faced off with a veteran Cuban national squad in Havana, reviving a series between two baseball-crazy nations 16 years after it was called off at a nadir in relations. Players and fans stood respectfully in the city's storied Latin American Stadium on Thursday night as the Cuban and then the U.S. national anthems played on loudspeakers -- the latter a rarity in the Communist-run island nation. "This is awesome. I've never been out of the country before, so this is my first time," said USA outfielder Johnny Field, a 20-year-old sophomore who won a College World Series title less than two weeks ago with the University of Arizona. "We've heard all the hype about how great the stadium is, and Cuba is at baseball, and it's already shown since we got here. ... We're fired up to be here." The last time Cuba and the U.S. played a series like this outside of tournament play was 1996, which even among 53 years of bad blood stood out as a particularly bad year for U.S.-Cuban relations: That February, Cuba shot down two small planes piloted by an anti-Castro exile group that Havana accused of entering its airspace to drop leaflets. Later, President Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act, which dramatically hardened the U.S. trade embargo. USA Baseball President Mike Gaski said there was no single event that prompted the series to be suspended and decisions on funding, timing and scheduling have kept play from resuming. But he acknowledged that political concerns complicated matters, and said it took years of building relationships to bring about this weekend's games. "It wasn't for lack of trying on both people's parts. And there were probably political pressures that went on above our pay grades. ... I wasn't privy to those conversations," Gaski said. "There's always been an anxiety about defections, and maybe everybody's at a better place right now." The plan is for the Cubans to pay a reciprocal visit next summer. "The most important thing is to maintain this matchup, both in Cuba and in the United States. I would love to go play there," said Victor Mesa, the former star outfielder who's now managing Cuba's national team. There've been a number of Little League exchanges between the countries, and in 1999, the Baltimore Orioles became the first MLB team to play in Cuba since 1959. The U.S. squad of 22 players and five coaches arrived in Havana on Thursday with barely enough time to check into their hotel before it was time to head to the ballpark, where batting practice was interrupted by a downpour typical of the Caribbean summer. Groundskeepers managed to rake the field into playable condition, and the game started about 90 minutes late. In the sparsely filled stands, a few people waved American flags surrounded by horn-blowing Cuba fans. The U.S. won the opener 4-3 on Michael Conforto's grand slam and Jonathan Crawford's 6 1-3 innings of strong pitching. The series is a warm-up for both squads ahead of the upcoming Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands. For the U.S. collegians, all but two of whom are freshmen or sophomores, it's also a chance to see how they perform against tougher competition. "In the past, the big stars from the United States played against us. Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Frank Thomas," Mesa said. "We are a measuring stick for the major leagues. We are an elite team with pitchers who could pitch at any level, so if one of these boys stands out against us, he has the talent to play in the majors." If baseball is America's national pastime, it's equally an obsession in Cuba. Stickball games are a daily sight in crowded Havana streets, and it seems everyone here knows the English words "ball," "strike," "inning" and "home run" -- pronounced "hon-ron." The U.S. and Cuba are perennial favorites at competitions such as the World Baseball Classic, and both sides express respect for what they consider a tough rival. "Whenever we've gone to a tournament, both USA Baseball and Cuba, I know we both look to see which bracket each other's in," said University of Tennessee coach Dave Serrano, manager of the USA squad. "For them to start this rivalry back up is like the Red Sox and the Yankees -- it's supposed to be part of baseball."

Turner jokes that Celtics will retire his number

Turner jokes that Celtics will retire his number

It’s not the craziest thing someone has said on Twitter, but Evan Turner tweeted Monday that the Celtics should retire his number. 

It was a joke, of course, as the former Celtic was reacting to news that Isaiah Thomas had said he liked the No. 11 and would change his jersey number if so many people in Boston hadn’t already purchased his No. 4 jersey. 

After Turner joked that No. 11 was going to be retired, Thomas joked back that he would wear No. 11 as a tribute to the current Trail Blazer. 

Prior to being traded to Boston, Thomas wore No. 22 for Sacramento and No. 3 for Phoenix. 

Curran: McDaniels staying with Pats shouldn't be a shocker

Curran: McDaniels staying with Pats shouldn't be a shocker

For weeks the speculation regarding Josh McDaniels wasn't a matter of "if" but "when."

But while national media had McDaniels signed, sealed and delivered to multiple landing spots, the proposition that he'd leave at all was never a likelihood. 

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The Rams weren't attractive to him from the outset. Jacksonville didn't excite him, either. And on Monday, he passed on the 49ers opportunity. 

The lure of a blank slate in San Fran at quarterback and GM didn't outpace the uncertainty of going cross-country to work for a seemingly dysfunctional franchise that's cycled rapidly through coaches and has an unrealistic sense that it's a long, long way removed from its glory days, the only remnant remaining from that being perhaps the logo on the helmet. 

With four kids and a job McDaniels considers one of the 10 best on coaching -- head man or no -- he will stay on as the Patriots' offensive coordinator.

"I was really impressed with (Niners owner) Jed York and (team executive) Paraag Marathe . . . and the people that came from the 49ers organization," McDaniels said on a conference call this morning. "They did a great job with their presentation. Humbled to be included in that process. At this time it's just best for my family and myself to remain here in New England and focus on this year's playoffs and finish out the year however it turns out."

The same faulty speculative reasoning that had McDaniels as good as gone from the Patriots will move on undeterred today and surmise that McDaniels is staying with the Patriots because he knows, or has been promised, that he'll receive the head coaching job when Bill Belichick steps aside. 

While the Kraft family certainly thinks highly of McDaniels and that could come to pass, anyone tapping their foot and checking their watch waiting for Belichick to step down is in for a long wait. He's showing no signs of wrapping it up and, while I haven't been told directly McDaniels isn't the automatic successor, he wouldn't be taking interviews at all if he were assured that. 

What will be interesting to see is whether interest remains high in him for other jobs or the perception that he's never going to leave means teams don't bother to ask. San Fran obviously had its heart set on McDaniels. Even though Nick Caserio passed on the chance to interview with the Niners for their open GM job, the team did talk to Louis Riddick about the spot. He and McDaniels have high regard for each other. 

Between McDaniels, Caserio and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, the people closest to Belichick on the coaching flow chart all had chances to go somewhere else and all passed on the chance. It's another example of not why the Patriots are good but why they remain good. Stability.