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La Pelota Cubana: Volume 4.5, How I Met Yulieski Gurriel

Fare, Fortune and Fandom in Baseball

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

We interrupt our ongoing series describing the differences in play between MLB and Cuba in order for me to freak out and tell you all the story of how I got up close and personal with your new favorite Astro and mine, Yulieski Gurriel.

Several weeks ago, along with 3 close friends of mine, I departed on a baseball Odyssey spanning cities from Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, stopping at each location to take in a game. By good fortune, the Pirates were playing the Astros in Pittsburgh and as you all know well, Yulieski had just been called up the prior game, collecting his first hit.

Upon realizing that we would be there at the same time as Gurriel, I sprung into fanboy action trying to get his autograph. I tried to make use of my prestigious Crawfish Boxes connections, but as it turns out, writing for an SB National blog doesn’t get you all that many nepotism points with a Major League Baseball team. Having failed in my first attempt, I decided I would just have to get that autograph the old fashioned way: seriously inconvenience all my friends by dragging them to the ballpark hours before the game began. Arriving at the stadium 2 and a half hours before the first pitch, I made my way down behind the Astros’ visiting dugout and watched the teams warming up. Some players were signing balls, but sadly for me, Gurriel was not amongst them.

Sitting down, somewhat disappointed, I was suddenly addressed by a man to my right who told me that he liked me Cuba shirt which I was wearing. I noticed that he himself was wearing a Cuban National Team hat, and asked him where he had gotten it, as such things are hard to come by.

“It was given to me” he said.

“By who?” I asked.

Ismel Jimenez” he responded.

Delighted to find another Cuban baseball fan, I spent a while talking with him, discussing players on the island, Cuban players in the major leagues, the differing atmosphere in the stadiums here or in Cuba. Eventually he asked me why I was there and I told him about our road trip. When I asked him why he was at the game, however, he simply responded,

“My nephew Yuli is playing today.”

So it turns out that unbeknownst to me I had been talking with Yulieski Gurriel’s uncle. Sensing my good fortune, I told him about my desire to get his autograph, and he told me that he would ask Yuli when he came back to the dugout, and he was good as his word.

After Yuli signed the ball, I continued talking with his uncle for a while, about various different topics, including a fascinating conversation featuring some off the record comments about the future of Lourdes Gurriel.

As the players were coming off the field, Gurriel’s uncle began to make his way to the side of the dugout to talk with Yuli before the game. He turned to us and said

“Hey, do you want to come?”

So I made my way down beside the dugout, through ballpark security and stood around starstruck as Gurriel and his uncle conversed. Before he retreated to locker-room to ready himself for the game, Gurriel was nice enough to talk with me briefly, to the extent that my Spanish and his English would allow, shake my hand, and take a picture with me (as well as one with me and my friend).

Sadly, Yuli did not start in this game, since it was played in a National League park, and grounded out in his only at bat as a pinch hitter. Nevertheless, I can now claim that I was present for Gurriel’s final game for Cuba at the 2016 Serie del Caribe and his 2nd Major League game as well. As a longtime fan since 2004, I can say with absolute certainty that this was something I’ll remember all my life. Sometimes fortune favors us, even when we don’t see it coming.

Up next we’ll continue with a discussion of the difference between hitting in MLB vs. Cuba.