Yulieski Gurriel is 39 years old. It has been a long time since we saw him debut in the Cuban baseball classics, more than two decades ago; Although it seems like yesterday. I have fresh images of the 41st National Series, when Lourdes’ son jumped for the first time to the Antillean diamonds. He was a slender, skinny boy, a “guin”, but look at how he hit the ball hard!
We met him wearing 10 grand on his back, just below the mythical last name, Gourriel, (still with the “o” in those days). From the outset, perhaps we did not imagine how far the Spiritus would go, although he sent signals from the premiere.
In his rookie season, he hit more than 100 hits and around 40 extra-base hits, drove in 50 runs and scored 59. I remember he didn’t have a lot of patience, his nature was to always attack in turns and make contact, a detail that to me, a Old school man, I loved it, because you win by hitting the ball.
Immediately the rivals began to respect him, a natural reaction after so many “sticks”. In the playoffs In his first year, for example, they gave him 10 tickets in 18 games, while in the regular season they had given him only 8 free tickets in 90 challenges. The rumor that he was a talented boy was no longer such a rumor: we were facing a reality.
Yulieski showed that he was not there just because he was the son of Lourdes Gourriel, but because he had all the conditions to become a phenomenon and mark an era. In that postseason, at just 18 years old, he left an offensive line (Average / On-base average /slugging) of .349/446/.556, with 7 extra-base hits and 11 RBIs, the perfect complement to the great Frederich Cepeda on the way to the subtitle of the Roosters, the closest he came to being crowned champion of the National Series.
The great thing is, more than twenty years later, we’re still talking about Yulieski—now Gurriel—a player who stands the test of time and withstands the demands of everyday Major League play. Just days ago, a baseball scholar like francis romero revealed that the man from Espiritu had dropped below 12 seconds in the race home to third when he hit his third triple of 2023.
It may seem like an inconsequential fact; but Romero himself took it upon himself to show us the greatness behind it: the only players over the age of 38 to have clocked under 12 seconds when they hit a 3-pointer in the Statcast era (since 2015) were Chase Utley, Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner.
That Yulieski maintains this speed at 39 speaks to his athleticism and how zealous and dedicated he has been to body care throughout his extensive professional career. Only in this way has he managed to go through more than 20 seasons almost without injuries, placing himself at the gates of entering a historic Cuban club in the MLB.
Of the more than 380 baseball players from the island who have made it to the Major Leagues, only 15 have played after their 39th birthday. Tany Pérez (437 matches) leads the list, followed by Rafael Palmeiro (268), Adolfo Luque (160), Orestes Miñoso (144), Tony Fossas (118), Conrado Marrero (117), Bert Campaneris (115), Orlando Peña (106), Tony Taylor (105), “El Duque” Hernández (81), José Ariel Contreras (41), Diego Seguí (40), Luis Tiant (40), Mike González (37) and Mike Cuéllar (23).
The next time Yulieski jumps onto a field, he will join this select group and he will do so with the Marlins jersey, a team he is trying to inject with the ambition to reach October. At first glance, the company is not easy, because the Florida franchise has only advanced to the postseason three times in its thirty-year history.
The magnitude of the challenge does not intimidate the most publicized of the Gurriel brothers, who has set a new horizon for himself after becoming a regular protagonist of the World Series during his time with the Houston Astros. The impact of his message is slowly permeating a team that has undergone multiple structural changes in recent years, but now has a mix of young blood and level players to make the leap.
For example, the Dominican Jesús Sánchez, one of those promises of the Marlins, assured in a recent interview with The New Herald that Yulieski’s advice had allowed him to start exploiting his tools.
“He said a word to me that I am going to reserve; but she told me that I had a lot of talent, to trust my hand. That in all the time that he has, he had never seen a player with as much ability as the one I have,” said the man from Quisqueyan, who has exploded in recent weeks.
Gurriel’s influence even reaches his manager Skip Schumaker, with whom he is almost contemporary, since they are only four years apart. They have known each other for a long time, because they were rivals during the 2006 Americas Pre-Olympic, when Yulieski was one of the stars of the Cuba team and Schumaker was a member of the northern squad.
At that moment, the Marlins’ mentor realized the quality of what would be his pupil seventeen years later.
“I think Yuli’s career could have been as good at the Major League level if he’d been around a good number of years. When you think back to 2006 she was young, in her prime, and was the figure of that Cuban team. I honestly believe he could have been in the Hall of Fame conversation.” assured Schumaker to The New Herald.
These words, coming from a baseball man who has had the chance to see a lot of the game’s biggest stars in the last thirty years, should be hallowed. However, many Cubans do not share Schumaker’s vision; in fact, many Cubans could call him crazy for elevating Yulieski to immortality.
As sad as it may seem, it has been the position of a not inconsiderable sector of the island’s fans, who have only distilled hatred against Gurriel. Regarding the subject, not long ago i read:
I can’t imagine a Venezuelan, a Boricua, a Dominican or a Mexican denying or minimizing the achievements of any player from their land. It does not occur to me that the Latino fans go to the extreme of saying that a certain player does not represent them. All this has happened with Yulieski, trapped in a web of hate that is limited to lynching him and comparing him to Omar Linares, to “Pito” Abreu or with the Holy Trinity.
Perhaps there is no more accurate view of the behavior of many Cuban fans when the name of Yulieski Gurriel is placed on the table. Unfortunately, this way of seeing things seems irreversible, judging by the level of antipathy expressed by those fans on social networks. No argument convinces them, not to admire Yulieski’s career, but to value it.