Like their contemporaries are doing, the Cuban prince of baseball and his younger brother voted with their feet on the false promises of a reformed Cuba in the age of rapprochement — and they’re out of there.
Learn their names: sluggers Yulieski Gourriel, 31, and Lourdes Gourriel Jr., 22. You could see them soon in your baseball team, not as the subcontracted players of a Cuba-U.S. alliance, but as free young men.
The baseball players defected in the Dominican Republic, fleeing from the hotel where the Cuban delegation was staying at 2 a.m. Monday in a black pickup truck, dreams of Major League baseball in their hearts. Like in a scene from a Cold War movie, a Cuban security operative tried to stop them but failed, El Nuevo Herald sports writer Jorge Ebro reported. The Cuban ambassador in Santo Domingo and one of his flunkies rushed to the hotel angry as hell, bemoaning how the players had foiled a deal on which they were “so close.”
Good for them — the players get to keep their millions now.
Good for us — we get energized baseball.
The Cuban Baseball Federation, a government entity acting as agents, planned to use the brothers to make a deal with Major League Baseball: Players for dollars. Now we know what MLB — all too happy at the prospect of harvesting mango bajito, cheaper labor — was so eagerly doing in Cuba. Looks like the Gourriels declined to live and work under what amounts to volunteer slavery, and Havana didn’t hesitate to vilify their heroes as “traitors” and sell-outs to “the mercenaries” of baseball.
Their defection speaks volumes about what the Cubans think of U.S.-Cuba deals in which the winner is the coffers of the Castros: Adiós! And it’s a throwback to the days of détente, when Cuba’s constant bleed of great players became American baseball’s gain. How else could the then-newbie Florida Marlins clinch the World Series title in 1997 but for the arm of MVP pitcher Liván “I Love You, Miami” Hernández?
Miami is ready for you, Yulieski.
Will the Gourriels end up playing for the Miami Marlins?
We sure could use them.
After greedy owners bamboozled elected officials into building a striking stadium, then tore apart the expensive team, it’s been dull around here. Baseball has been so boring we almost miss fired manager Ozzie Guillén, who suffered from the unforgivable ailment of being a left-wing loud-mouth.
Politics still being what they are, the Gourriel brothers may feel more comfortable in Cuba-crazed Tampa, which is begging Washington for a Cuban consulate — while Miami says no way — and where you don’t have to clarify where you stand on the Castro brothers, which makes it easier to go home again some day.
But I say, no way, they belong in Liván’s Miami.
With the 40,000 Cubans who’ve arrived in the last year since the change in U.S.-Cuba relations and another 8,000 on their way from Costa Rica, the Gourriels have a ready-made audience — and we have a retractable roof to pay for.
Until the Cuban government turns over a new leaf and deeds its people the freedom and dignity they deserve, there will be middle-of-the-night defections — and maybe better baseball in Miami.