LAST FRIDAY, the U.S. Olympic baseball team lost to Cuba in a testy showdown that ended with Team USA manager Davey Johnson accusing a Cuban pitcher of throwing at one of his players. While the national teams were bickering, dozens of preteen players were doing their part 7,700 miles away to improve relations between the countries. The Twin State Peregrines, a team of 11- and 12-year-olds from New Hampshire and Vermont, arrived in Havana on Aug. 10 for nine days of baseball and cultural exchange. The Peregrines played against youth teams in Havana and made donations of uniforms and equipment. Heading into their final game on Sunday they were 4--3 on Cuban soil. "The trip has been incredible," Twin State coach John Carey said. "Baseball has been just the tip of the iceberg."

The Peregrines nearly didn't make it. Last month, a Miami congressman asked the U.S. Treasury Department to reevaluate its approval of the trip. Then mechanical problems forced the cancellation of their flight to Havana. (Hurricane Fay threatened to delay their departure on Monday.) But once there, the Peregrines realized in some ways they hadn't traveled far at all. Said first baseman Nathaniel Eastman of Fairlee, Vt., "Even though we're so different, the kids here love baseball as much as we do."