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May 28, 2017

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Cubans see crisis in baseball after tournament strike out

HAVANA -- Like a batter beaned by a wild pitch, baseball-mad Cubans are trying to shake off the trauma of seeing their team eliminated in their historic return to a Caribbean tournament.

In official newspapers, social media and the street, Cubans voiced discontent at what some billed as a baseball crisis in a nation passionate about the sport, whose fan base includes former president Fidel Castro.

There were high hopes in Cuba's grand return to the Caribbean Series, with domestic league champions Villa Clara representing the country and promising to compete for the trophy.

But Cuba struck out in its grand return to the tournament hosted by Venezuela, losing three out of four games.

"Let's not blame Villa Clara," wrote blogger Reynaldo Cruz. "We lost because Cuban baseball is clearly inferior to that of its rivals. The crisis was confirmed."

Cuba dominated the Caribbean Series before withdrawing 54 years ago, when Castro outlawed professional sports. It won seven of the first 12 tournaments between 1949 and 1960.

Despite the end of professionalism, Cuba remained a giant in the sport, winning 25 international trophies as well as three Olympic gold medals and second place in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

But it has failed to lift any international trophy in the past eight years.

Cruz wrote that Cuban baseball has been hurt by the defection of its best players, who have fled to the United States for lucrative contracts in Major League Baseball.

"The desertions have been a very strong and defining factor because they are increasing," he said. "Those leaving the country are more and more the best ones."

The daily Juventud Rebelde said it was time for "a deep analysis of the current state of Cuban baseball."

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