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US Univ. Beats Cuba Baseball Team

January 27, 2000

HAVANA (AP) _ In the first U.S.-Cuba collegiate baseball game in Cuba in 14 years, the University of St. Thomas whipped the University of Havana on Wednesday, 7-0. But not without feeling badly.

``I’m very happy that we won. I’m sad that they lost,″ said St. Thomas manager Dennis Denning, as players from the two teams exchanged autographs, slapped backs and struggled to converse in broken Spanish and English.

The game at Cuba’s shrine to baseball, Latinoamericano Stadium, was as much about breaking political barriers as it was about sport. It was the first game by a U.S. collegiate baseball team in Cuba since a 1986 visit by a team from Johns Hopkins University.

The team from St. Paul, Minn., has spent several days touring the Cuban capital, one of a growing number of U.S. delegations to visit Cuba since the United States relaxed rules on trips by academic and other non-governmental groups early last year.

``Its a lot cleaner and the people are a lot friendlier than we thought they would be,″ said Mike Honsa, a 22-year-old senior pitcher from St. Paul.

Both teams were playing out of season _ something that may have caused an unusual number of walks _ but they played a tight, exciting game through seven innings before St. Thomas broke the game open with six runs.

Tom Kelly, son of the Minnesota Twins manager, pitched the last inning of the game.

The small Catholic university is also a small baseball powerhouse. It was the NCAA Division III championship runner-up last year with a 42-7 overall record.

A handful of St. Thomas students visiting Havana on an unrelated cultural exchange cheered loudly from the stands and even sang ``Take Me Out to the Ballgame″ during the seventh-inning stretch _ though they were often drowned out by the Afro-Cuban drumming of the Havana fans.

Asked about the possibility of playing in the Minnesota weather, Cuban player Yuman Garcia grinned and said, ``We’re going to have to take a lot of warmups or we’ll freeze.″

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