<
>

Despite loss, Cuban fans are proud of their team

3/21/2006 - MLB

HAVANA -- A stunned silence fell across hundreds of fans crowded around a giant outdoor television screen in Parque Central early Tuesday as they watched Japan beat their beloved Cuban national team 10-6 in the World Baseball Classic final.

Earlier in the evening, the fans sang and danced to salsa music and boisterously cheered on the Cuban ballplayers as they struggled against the Japanese.

"It hurts, it hurts a lot," Alexei Serrano said of Cuba's loss.

Added his twin, Alberto: "Cuba lacked batting and speed, but I'm still proud of my team."

Both men were among those crowded around the screen put up in the hours before the game in the park, where sports fans gather daily to loudly argue about teams and players.

Cuban state television carried the ESPN broadcast of all the games live across this island of 11.2 million, but the giant screen wasn't erected until the final.

In recent days, euphoria about Cuba's chances for success in the inaugural Classic had reached a fever pitch, especially after the team's dramatic 4-3 win over Puerto Rico at the end of the second round, and its 3-1 win over the Dominican Republic on Saturday.

"Cuba has overcome the best players in the world," said Jorge Perez, still proud of those earlier wins.

Ives Luciano, who wore a red Cuban team baseball cap, acknowledged that he was "not happy" about the loss. "But I'm not disillusioned either, because we won with honor."

"It had been said that if we wound up in fifth place, that would have been fine," said another fan, who gave his name as Rainoldi Cuba. "And look, there are teams with great professional players who left empty-handed.

"They did so much," he said of his team. "We could not have asked for more."