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After 16 years, Cuba and U.S. will play baseball

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After 16 years, Cuba and U.S. will play baseball

From Comcast SportsNet
HAVANA (AP) -- A team of college stars representing the United States faced off with a veteran Cuban national squad in Havana, reviving a series between two baseball-crazy nations 16 years after it was called off at a nadir in relations. Players and fans stood respectfully in the city's storied Latin American Stadium on Thursday night as the Cuban and then the U.S. national anthems played on loudspeakers -- the latter a rarity in the Communist-run island nation. "This is awesome. I've never been out of the country before, so this is my first time," said USA outfielder Johnny Field, a 20-year-old sophomore who won a College World Series title less than two weeks ago with the University of Arizona. "We've heard all the hype about how great the stadium is, and Cuba is at baseball, and it's already shown since we got here. ... We're fired up to be here." The last time Cuba and the U.S. played a series like this outside of tournament play was 1996, which even among 53 years of bad blood stood out as a particularly bad year for U.S.-Cuban relations: That February, Cuba shot down two small planes piloted by an anti-Castro exile group that Havana accused of entering its airspace to drop leaflets. Later, President Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act, which dramatically hardened the U.S. trade embargo. USA Baseball President Mike Gaski said there was no single event that prompted the series to be suspended and decisions on funding, timing and scheduling have kept play from resuming. But he acknowledged that political concerns complicated matters, and said it took years of building relationships to bring about this weekend's games. "It wasn't for lack of trying on both people's parts. And there were probably political pressures that went on above our pay grades. ... I wasn't privy to those conversations," Gaski said. "There's always been an anxiety about defections, and maybe everybody's at a better place right now." The plan is for the Cubans to pay a reciprocal visit next summer. "The most important thing is to maintain this matchup, both in Cuba and in the United States. I would love to go play there," said Victor Mesa, the former star outfielder who's now managing Cuba's national team. There've been a number of Little League exchanges between the countries, and in 1999, the Baltimore Orioles became the first MLB team to play in Cuba since 1959. The U.S. squad of 22 players and five coaches arrived in Havana on Thursday with barely enough time to check into their hotel before it was time to head to the ballpark, where batting practice was interrupted by a downpour typical of the Caribbean summer. Groundskeepers managed to rake the field into playable condition, and the game started about 90 minutes late. In the sparsely filled stands, a few people waved American flags surrounded by horn-blowing Cuba fans. The U.S. won the opener 4-3 on Michael Conforto's grand slam and Jonathan Crawford's 6 1-3 innings of strong pitching. The series is a warm-up for both squads ahead of the upcoming Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands. For the U.S. collegians, all but two of whom are freshmen or sophomores, it's also a chance to see how they perform against tougher competition. "In the past, the big stars from the United States played against us. Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Frank Thomas," Mesa said. "We are a measuring stick for the major leagues. We are an elite team with pitchers who could pitch at any level, so if one of these boys stands out against us, he has the talent to play in the majors." If baseball is America's national pastime, it's equally an obsession in Cuba. Stickball games are a daily sight in crowded Havana streets, and it seems everyone here knows the English words "ball," "strike," "inning" and "home run" -- pronounced "hon-ron." The U.S. and Cuba are perennial favorites at competitions such as the World Baseball Classic, and both sides express respect for what they consider a tough rival. "Whenever we've gone to a tournament, both USA Baseball and Cuba, I know we both look to see which bracket each other's in," said University of Tennessee coach Dave Serrano, manager of the USA squad. "For them to start this rivalry back up is like the Red Sox and the Yankees -- it's supposed to be part of baseball."

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2017 NFL Power Rankings: Week 3 was awfully wacky, wasn't it?

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2017 NFL Power Rankings: Week 3 was awfully wacky, wasn't it?

After Week 2, it looked like the NFL was being divided into three tiers: The bottom feeders, the inconsistent squads and the leaders.

After Week 3, though, those tiers have largely fallen apart.

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S UPDATED NFL POWER RANKINGS

Blowouts came out of nowhere. Favorites lost to underdogs. And Joe Flacco looked good! (OK, only the first two happened).

After a classically wacky week in the league, how have the power rankings shifted? Click the above or below link to find out.

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S UPDATED NFL POWER RANKINGS

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Three things that aren't being talked about enough from Redskins-Raiders

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USA TODAY Sports

Three things that aren't being talked about enough from Redskins-Raiders

Is that what it feels like to watch the Patriots on a weekly basis?

The Redskins 27-10 victory over the Raiders on Sunday night was about as impressive of a performance as the Burgundy and Gold has produced in recent memory.

That means many of the huge storylines — like the return of Really Good Kirk Cousins, a secondary that locked down Oakland's weapons and Chris Thompson casually posting a Julio Jones-like receiving stat line — that have, and will continue to be, hashed over. But there are a few topics that are being overlooked following the Week 3 Washington win.

Here are three Redskins-Raiders things that should be talked about a little more.

1) The Redskins didn't make many mistakes, but when they did, they recovered really nicely

The 'Skins were in control of that ballgame pretty much from the start. But there were some points, like Jamison Crowder's muffed punt or Samaje Perine's fumble, where the team gave Oakland some life.

Yet Jay Gruden's team deserves more shine for the way they bounced back from those errors. The defense forced a three-and-out after Dustin Hopkins missed a 52-yarder. They also held the Raiders to three deep in their own territory when Perine put the ball on the ground. And the offense, behind Thompson's 74-yard catch-and-run, put three points on the board right after the Silver and Black scored their only TD.

Those few moments caused those at FedEx Field to hold their breath. But the Redskins' resiliency was key in maintaining their breathing room.

MORE: WE TOOK SOME SWEET PHOTOS ON SUNDAY NIGHT

2) It was another incomplete effort from Dustin Hopkins

Speaking of Hopkins, Sunday night was a good but not perfect performance.

The Redskins' kicker missed the aforementioned attempt from 52 yards away, making Week 3 the second straight time out he's missed one from 50 and beyond. He converted all three of his extra points and was true on two other field goals so it wasn't all bad, but there'll be moments in 2017 when he'll be relied upon to hit from long range, and thus far, he's come up empty.

That miss is the type of thing that gets passed over in victories. Those are pointed to very quickly in losses, however.

3) You know the D-Line was a force, but let's not forget who they did it against, either

Jim Tomsula's unit made Derek Carr look more like his brother. Once you consider who they pushed around, though, their domination becomes even more notable.

The Raiders offensive line is regarded as one of the league's elite groups, but they looked pedestrian in D.C. The four sacks they allowed were the most they've given up in their last 20 regular season and playoff games. Greg Manusky's front seven will enjoy watching the film from this one.

RELATED: SEVEN OF THE BEST STATS FROM REDSKINS-RAIDERS