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Latin America

Cuba’s star baseball player defects to reportedly join US Major League

Yulieski Gourriel left his Santo Domingo hotel after playing in the Caribbean Series

Fidel Castro and Yulieski Gourriel in 2006.
Fidel Castro and Yulieski Gourriel in 2006.CLAUDIA DAUT (REUTERS)
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Cuba pierde a Yulieski Gurriel, la joya de su béisbol

One of Cuba’s biggest baseball stars slipped out of a hotel in Dominican Republic early Monday in a reported bid to move to the United States where he is wanted by the Major League (MLB).

Yulieski Gourriel, 31, and his brother, Lourdes, 22, defected in Santo Domingo after playing for Cuba’s national team in the Caribbean Series.

Yulieski has played third base over the past four seasons with Gallos de Sancti Spirtus, while his younger brother is capable of playing shortstop and outfielder.

The desertions are seen as a big blow for Cuba, which takes pride in its baseball teams and players.

Last year more than 100 Cuban baseball players defected and in 2014 about 70 left the island

Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which reported the defections, said it was “an open attitude of surrender to the merchants of professional baseball for profit” in the United States.

According to sports news reports, the Gourriel brothers will join the MLB as many other Cuban players have done in the past.

Yulieski Gourriel, who was named Cuba's sportsman of the year in 2015, could sign a contract worth around $100 million, the reports said.

Attracted by high earnings and better opportunities to train, Cuba has steadily been losing its baseball talent to the United States. Last year more than 100 players defected and in 2014 about 70 left the island.

Yulieski Gourriel in 2006 during a game with the Cuban National team.
Yulieski Gourriel in 2006 during a game with the Cuban National team.E. DE LA OSA (reuters)

In 2013, the Cuban government tried to stop the problem by allowing its players to temporarily join other teams abroad on a seasonal basis. But the measure has failed to hold back the flow of defections.

Gourriel signed a contract in 2014 to play second base for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars of Japan’s Central League. However, the contract was rescinded after he reportedly suffered an injury.

“Gourriel doesn’t know what a contract entails,” said team manager Shigeru Takada at the time.

As part of the talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, officials on both sides have tried to reach common ground to allow Cuban players to be recruited by the major leagues without violating the terms of the 55-year-old economic embargo.

But no agreement has yet been reached and the number of defections by Cuban players continues to grow.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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