Baseball and strikes run through Yuniesky Gourriel Castillo’s vain. His father, Lourdes Gourriel, is a legend himself, and even his brothers practised this fabulous sport: Yuliesky is considered the most complete batter in Cuban baseball and he currently shines in the Yokohama DeNa Baystars, the top team in Japan, while Lourdes Jr. is one of the greatest promises in Cuba.
After 13 seasons wearing the uniform of ‘Los Gallos’ of Sancti Spiritus and ‘Los Industriales’ of Havana, the fielder signed a one – year contract, last 23rd July, with ‘Les Capitales’ of Quebec, from the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball. By doing so, he became the first Cuban player who, with the permission of the authorities, could participate in Canada. This happened in a framework of new policies towards sports which has slowly allowed the insertion of players in foreign professional clubs.
In the thirty games played with ‘Les Capitales’, Yuniesky ended up with an offensive average of 321 (78 – 25) with 10 runs scored, he shot four double strikes, one homerun, and he also started 11 runs. He also presented an on base percentage (OBP) of 376 and 410 slugging.
After finishing the tournament in Canada, Gourriel came back to Cuba to play with ‘Los Industriales’, in the 54th Edition of the Cuban National Series. During a training session in the Santiago Changa Mederos Stadium, the oldest of the Gourriel brothers spoke to PanamericanWorld.
How did you get to Les Capitales of Quebec?
I had just finished the Provincial Series and the team’s management called home. Intentions had been there since 2010. I told them that many Cuban players were playing overseas and that the only thing to do was to start negotiations in the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER, in Spanish), they would surely allow me to play. They did and that’s how I started playing.
Les Capitales of Quebec belong to the Can – Am Professional League, and doesn’t have an affiliation with the Major League of Baseball (MLB), which was why Yuniesky’s contract did not present any inconvenient.
In this season, the team finished third in the standings. The tournament is considered in the A level and all teams play against each other. The first two define the championship.
How do you see this first season?
I did very well. The Board was happy with my performance. I had the support of other players and managers as well; and personally, I achieved my own goals.
Are there differences between the National Series and the Can – Am League?
It’s a tournament similar to the Cuban Classic. The only difference worth stressing is that players are more ‘worked’, in the sense that they were once a project for the Major Leagues in America butt they couldn’t make it, but they played well in AA and in AAA.
Was it hard for you to adapt to a professional tournament?
I did well, but I will confess you that it was difficult at first. It was the first time I was away from my family. I had a bad time the first games. I thought I would go to the bench at any time. It’s a tournament that is played almost every day. you must plan your training yourself, but I did my best and everything went well.
What’s the level of the pitchers?
It’s very good. There are many pitchers from the Dominican Republic and Latin players who in general hit very hard. From the 6th inning on, they are all 90 miles pitchers. I had to overcome that, I adapted and I did well.
Were you aware of your brother’s performance in the Japanese League?
Yes, of course. We spoke daily through internet, we gave each other advice. In a moment, he was scoring above 340, just like I was, and we encouraged each other to get such results.
Do you think that many Cuban players could play in the CanAm?
Of course they can! Thank God things turned up pretty well for me but they also have interest in other players. I wish everyone could go, solve their problems and know other cultures by taking baseball to other places and giving the best of them.
Will Yuniesky Gourriel come back to the CanAm?
On my last day, before coming back to Cuba, I had lunch with the Management and they were quite interested. Now they should come here, talk to the INDER and renew the agreement.
Back to Los Industriales, what do you expect for this season in Cuban baseball?
I’m happy to see my partners. I missed them a lot. Now I’m focused on coming back to the game system and on helping the team. That’s the concept of my whole career: help things go well.
Por Y. Masó / M. Gómez. PanamericanWorld. La Habana