AJAX, Ontario (Reuters) - The United States and Cuba may have reached a deal to restore diplomatic ties but there was no sign of warming relations during their baseball clash at the Pan American Games on Sunday.
The preliminary round game, which the United States won 5-2, came less than two weeks after the countries formally agreed to restore diplomatic ties as of July 20, fulfilling a pledge made in December.
Games between the long-time baseball rivals always draw interest given the political hostilities and the fact Cuba has lost many prospects and top players who fled their country to seek contracts with U.S.-based Major League Baseball clubs.
“It goes back and ...it’s becoming more and more pronounced and understandably so,” U.S. manager Jim Tracy said about the rivalry.
”Obviously with the country of Cuba there are some pretty good players that have made their way over to the United States and playing in the major leagues.
”So they are trying to make a statement as to the type of baseball they play in their country and we are very, very proud of what we do.
“So that being said it’s going to enhance the rivalry, there’s no question about it.”
Cuba have dominated baseball at the quadrennial games since the first tournament in 1951, winning 12 of the 16 titles, including every one between 1971 and 2007.
But after a stunning loss at the hands of the United States in 2011, which forced Cuba to settle for a bronze medal - their worst finish at the Pan Am Games since 1959 - Cuba are out to reclaim a title they recognize as part of their fabric.
They had plenty of support on Sunday as a rowdy group of Cuban supporters dominated the 4,000-seat ballpark in Ajax, a Toronto suburb, and their red, white and blue flags provided a patriotic backdrop down the right field line.
Cuba’s supporters were vocal throughout the game, even as their side fell behind early when U.S. shortstop Andrew Parrino opened the scoring with a two-run home run in the bottom half of the first inning.
But Cuba responded in the second when Raul Gonzalez drove in two runs with a hard shot to left field.
Tyler Pastornicky restored the U.S. lead with a two-run double in the sixth inning before the Americans added another run in the eighth.
“It’s a rivalry. You hear about it. You come over here to Team USA and that’s what they tell us. They got a lot of good players down there and it’s kind of what it is,” Pastornicky told reporters.
“But we got good players they got good players and it’s always heated games. We always play hard.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury