Gourriel Brothers Steal All the Bases / 14ymedio, Ernesto Santana

Baseball fanatics debating in a Cuban park cannot get over their astonishment. (14ymedio)
Baseball fanatics debating in a Cuban park cannot get over their astonishment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 9 February 2016 — Cuban baseball is absolutely astonished at its fall. And to make matters worse after the disaster in the recently concluded Caribbean Series, now brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel Jr. have joined the countless – and almost endless – list of Cuban baseball players who seek a better future outside their country, and in particular in the Major Leagues in the United States.

The news spread so quickly, both inside and outside of Cuba, that even the government media has had to acknowledge it. Of course, the two brothers are branded as deserters, seduced by the juicy deals that are intended to “rob Cuba of the talents it has worked so hard to develop.” An exception was the Havana Channel, which delivered the news without the derogatory adjectives.

Apparently, the most surprised were Cuba’s baseball managers in Santo Domingo, and even more the herdsmen of State Security, who tried to prevent the morning escape of two valuable captives, absconding to Major League Baseball. Even the ambassador rushed to the Dominican hotel to find out who was to blame for this double flight.

The Cuban government, absolute master of the country’s baseball league, again suffers a great loss, because the two Gourriels would certainly have been among the players to be turned into a source of millions of dollars when, finally, the government would have been able to make an advantageous agreement with the Major Leagues.

The Gourriel clan maintains very close relations with the Raul branch of the Castro clan – Yulieski, it is said, is married to the granddaughter of the general-president, and is a very close friend of Raul’s grandson-cum-bodyguard. So, perhaps those who believe that behind this event there could have been some kind of compromise between to the sides, in order to position themselves vis-à-vis the great baseball to the north, may be right.

The recent meeting with Lourdes Gourriel-the-father, with representatives of the Major Leagues in Miami, reinforces this hypothesis, which would explain the recent rejection by Yulieski Gurriel of a solo contract for three million dollars to play in the Japanese league; something seen as very suspicious by those who closely follow Cuban baseball.

Assumptions or logical deductions aside, it is clear that the Gourriels – especially Yulieski who is already 31 – were not willing to wait until the bridge finally opened between the elite of US baseball and the fiefdom of Cuban baseball, given that, like so many other novelties and reforms, such an opening could be too long delayed, according to the ”Raul principle” of moving to solve problems, “without pause, but without haste.”

A friend who works at the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television tells me about the hue and cry Monday morning when the news broke. “Now the three brothers will meet in the United States, because Yunieski is already in Canada,” someone said. “This is all arranged,” said another, “because the Gourriels are not going to do something like this behind Raul’s back.

Maybe. But many of those who have been allies of, or protected by, the Castro clan have also escaped, both in search of a more comfortable and a more free life or, simply, looking for a new world like so many Cubans scattered not only to the United States but all over the world.

The most natural thing would be to think that this remarkable flight could help the owners of Cuban baseball to undertake a renewal of the “national pastime.” Sports commentators and analysts, along with the “knights” of the Roundtable TV talk show, will criticize the players, the coaches, the technicians and even the commissioners themselves; but never the owners of the league, who will not give it up even when they pretend to do so.

It is clear that they will try to change everything that can be changed* so that everything remains the same. They have not done anything to keep the national series from declining or to keep our teams from sinking into the basement of world or regional baseball. They continue putting make up on the face of this sport, putting up a Victor Mesa or Roger Machado, setting the political police to watch the athletes so they do not escape.

But new star players will always emerge to bring some profit, especially if the Major Leagues finally fall into the old guerrillas’ ambush.

*Translator’s note: “Change everything that needs to be changed” is a throwaway slogan from Cuban Communist Party propaganda.