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Cuba’s Yuliesky Gourriel hopes to play in MLB someday

Feb 4, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT

Yuliesky Gourriel AP

Speaking after his Cuban team was eliminated from Caribbean Series play, third baseman Yuliesky Gourriel said he’s still hoping a path opens up that allows him to play in the U.S. someday.’s Jesse Sanchez has the story.

“I’m happy for all the Cubans in the major leagues and we follow them even though we don’t have direct contact with them,” he said. “In Cuba, we play a good level of baseball, but when they leave the country, they seem to elevate their game. Maybe we don’t have best training conditions or equipment, but once they leave Cuba, they explode. Me, I’m just waiting on permission.”

Gourriel, who debuted in Cuba’s top league as an 17-year-old in 2002, has never attempted to defect. As Sanchez puts it, Gourriel’s parents “have close ties to the island’s communist party.” Six or eight years ago, he might have been a major league team’s No. 1 pick in an imaginary draft of Cuba’s top talent. He’s 29 and coming off one of his worst seasons, so he wouldn’t be quite so highly sought after now. Still, he’d almost certainly be a quality regular at third base in the majors.

Gourriel has his best season in Cuba in 2009, when he hit .399/.474/.710 with 22 homers in 328 at-bats. He helped Cuba bring home the gold in the 2004 Olympics, and he’s hit .293 with five homers in 82 at-bats in the three World Baseball Classics.

  1. elvin2014 - Feb 4, 2014 at 7:39 PM

    Watch NOW live online the 2014 Baseball Caribbean Series from Isla Margarita, Venezuela.

    República Dominicana (Dominican Republic) vs Venezuela

    Interesting baseball game!

  2. Old Gator - Feb 4, 2014 at 7:40 PM

    One of those situations where a blessing becomes a curse. If his family members are close to or in the party, he creates more problems for them by defecting than he would if they weren’t – they’d certainly be demoted and probably ostracized as well. Tough situation.

  3. mikhelb - Feb 4, 2014 at 9:37 PM

    Cuba is not eliminated, they beat Puerto Rico today and if PR loses tomorrow and the Dominican Republic wins one of their last two games, Cuba will advance even though the Cubans were pummeled by México, Venezuela and the DR. México, the DR and Venezuela qualified to the semifinals and there is one more ticket available.

  4. mikhelb - Feb 4, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    @old gator: Gurriel is cousin of José Iglesias abd the family of Iglesias also works for the government. He’s very good but Yuniesky (the 3rd baseman with México, also a cuban) and Adonis García (Venezuela) have looked better so far and are about the same age or even younger than Gourriel. Even Wheeler who hit two monstruous homeruns has looked better… Cuba looks a bit overpowered by the other countries.

    • Old Gator - Feb 5, 2014 at 12:07 AM

      Thanks for the information. Obviously you’re more attuned to the Caribbean and Latin American baseball scene in general than I am; I pay closer attention to the Cuban and Venezuelan situations because of my friends from those two countries who live here in south Florida. I do get to watch some of the games on the Spanish language cable feeds here but I appreciate your reportage – it helps clarify some of what’s at stake in the occasional games I find the time to relax and enjoy.

      I just found it interesting that Gurriel probably enjoys a certain amount of privilege back home due to his family situation, but that it must have worked against him psychologically if he’s been dreaming of breaking into MLB for however many years. He may have missed the boat by now – pardon the incipient political humor in that turn of phrase.

  5. mikhelb - Feb 4, 2014 at 9:44 PM

    by the way, Dominican Republic’s Teleunion channel has the games live on the net: and TVes of Venezuela also has games live for free and their websites are adware-free unlike other websites like ‘pirlo’.

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