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Cuba's Baseball Team Fails To Make The Olympics — And It's Canada's Fault

For the first time since baseball became part of the Olympics, Cuba's national team won't compete in the sport at the Summer Games, after suffering a devastating loss in qualifying play to its longtime nemesis from the north: not the U.S., but Canada.

"Clearly we have not learned how to beat Canada," reports Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba's ruling Communist Party.

Cuba's baseball team hasn't defeated their counterparts from Canada in nearly 10 years, the paper says, citing the 2011 Pan-American Games when Canada took its first gold medal in the sport, the U.S. silver and Cuba the bronze.

With the latest result, Cuba has failed to qualify for Olympic baseball for the first time since it became a medal sport in 1992. The country has long been a powerhouse in baseball, having won three Olympic golds and a slew of World Cup and Pan-American championships.

Over the years, many of Cuba's elite ball players have opted to defect, to pursue pro careers in the U.S. and elsewhere. More than 20 Cuban-born players are currently playing in the MLB, according to Baseball Reference.

Worldwide, Cuba's baseball team is ranked No. 7, narrowly ahead of Venezuela, in the most recent standings from the sport's governing body, the World Baseball Softball Confederation. Canada, which was placed in the same qualifying group as those two countries, is ranked No. 13.

There is no joy in Mudville - or Havana

It was Venezuela that put Cuba's Olympic dreams in a coffin, defeating them 6-5 on Monday in West Palm Beach, Fla. Canada put the final nail in the coffin on Tuesday — again, by a 6-5 margin, in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

"The national team had a chance against the northerners, just as was the case against Venezuela, but came up short in attention to the details," Granma reports.

Qualifying rounds are continuing Friday, with the U.S. facing Canada in the evening game, and the Dominican Republic playing Venezuela earlier in the day, both games in West Palm Beach.

The details of Cuba's demise should sound familiar to any baseball fan: pitchers showed problems in early innings, and when Cuban players did get on base, not enough hits came to bring them home. The team's defense was also suspect, contributing to flaws that often prove fatal in important games.

Borrowing a phrase from the sugar industry to describe the lack of efficiency, Granma said in its Spanish-language story that the team put a lot of cane into the plant, but didn't extract any sugar.

As it reported the news, Granma also critiqued the Cuban hitters' approach at the plate, saying they failed to make adjustments to curveballs and fastballs.

The Cuban players "went with the same swing for every pitch, without considering the characteristics of each one," the newspaper says. Holding the Canadian hitters up as an example, the paper added that too many Cuban players took home-run swings rather than trying to make solid contact — the sign of inadequate training, it states.

Despite the Olympic setback, Granma told baseball fans in Cuba, life, and the game, go on: "But let us hold our heads high, because baseball will continue to call us, a game that has the virtue of giving us lots of joy, as well as suffering like this."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.