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Cuban Baseball Experiences A Double-Header Defection

Franklin Reyes
AP via El Nuevo Herald
Yulieski Gurriel (second from right) and Lourdes Gurriel (left) with their father Lourdes Sr. (right) and brother Yunieski in a 2014 photo.

The U.S. and Cuba may have normalized relations, but the cold war-style defection is still common for Cuban baseball stars who want to ditch communism for the U.S. big leagues. Another one took place yesterday – and it was a double-header.

Many Major League Baseball scouts consider Yulieski Gurriel one of the best players Cuba has ever produced. Even at the age of 31, he’s a coveted power-hitting infielder. So is his 22-year-old brother Lourdes, who can play just about anywhere on the field.

This week Yulieski and Lourdes were in the Dominican Republic, playing for Cuba in the Caribbean World Series. But in the wee hours of Monday morning, they slipped away from their hotel in Santo Domingo – and away from Cuba.

El Nuevo Herald first reported the defection. Cuba’s communist party newspaper, Granma, confirmed it, saying the Gurriel brothers are “giving themselves to the merchants of professional, for-profit baseball.” Indeed, both Gurriels could command top Major League salaries, just as so many defecting Cuban ballplayers before them have.

But what makes this baseball defection different is that it’s believed the first since the U.S. and Cuba began normalizing relations in late 2014. Many thought Cuban players could leave freely for the U.S. big leagues now. But the countries still haven’t hammered out a legal framework for that.