Dreams of making a career in the major leagues prompted two star Cuban baseball players to slip away from their hotel in the Dominican Republic during the Caribbean Series.
Cuba’s Community Party newspaper Granma confirmed that star infielder Yulieski Gourrial and his younger brother Loudes slipped away from their hotel room early Monday morning in an apparent effort to join the MLB.
The paper said on its website that the brothers had “abandoned” their hotel “in an open attitude to surrender to the merchants of professional baseball for profit.”
Yulieski is one of the most highly praised Cuban players by MLB scouts since his “debut” in the World Baseball Classic in 2006. His brother has also been seen as a good prospect for American teams.
According to Cuban baseball historian Ismael Sene, the departure of 31-year-old Yulieski is a blow not just to the effort to keep talented players from fleeing overseas but to the sport overall on the island given his prominence.
"Nobody was expecting this," Sene said. Since the start of the flight of Cuban players more than a decade ago, "there hasn't been a departure that's hit baseball as hard as this," he said.
Cuban sports officials contacted Dominican police for help in locating the brothers said a baseball official, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue.
The brothers did not publicly disclose their plans and were in the Dominican Republic to play for the Ciego de Avila Tigers, who lost to a Mexican team Saturday and were eliminated.
In the past, Cuban players have established residency in the Dominican Republic in order to become free agents and not be subject to Major League Baseball's amateur draft.
Yulieski Gourriel's departure from Cuba is also a defeat for the country's attempt to prevent flight of baseball talent by allowing players to sign professional contracts with leagues in third countries such as Mexico and Japan.
He was the most prominent example of the experiment that began in 2013, making $1 million playing for the Yokohama Dena Baystars, then returning to play a season with his pro team in Havana. After accounting for Japanese taxes, he paid 10 percent to Cuba's baseball federation (which acted as his agent). The Japanese team canceled his contract last spring after saying Gourriel had told them he was injured and needed to recuperate in Cuba.
Cuban and U.S. baseball officials are working to create a legal framework for Cuban residents to join the major leagues, but for the moment both Cuban law and U.S. law contain restrictions that make it impossible.
Cuban baseball experts say more than 200 adult players have left over the last two years, with many more junior players heading to other countries in hopes of an eventual major-league career.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.