TORONTO -- When the conversations around the Majors have turned to big league baseball lineage -- which has been most prevalent in Toronto this season -- there’s been no shortage of names to add to the discussion.
But, more often than not, there are a couple of players missing who should at the very least be in consideration, and who have followed in their successful father’s footsteps on the path to their careers in the Majors.
Reuniting for the second time this season during Houston’s three-game series against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Yuli Gurriel and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. couldn’t imagine passing up a chance to talk about their father, believing that while Lourdes Sr. is a household name in Cuba, his talents are underappreciated outside of their home country.
“My dad was a big star in Cuba,” Yuli said, through Astros interpreter Oz Ocampo. “He was the player who played the longest in the Cuban National Series, and he had a lot of success and a lot of awards playing on the Olympic team, playing in international tournaments and all over Cuba.”
While Lourdes Sr. is the man with the most hardware in the family, it would be hard to think that his international accomplishments might ever be matched by anyone in the game again.
Throughout his playing career, the 62-year-old father twice earned silver medals, but never settled for less than second. Lourdes Sr. amassed one Olympic gold medal, six gold finishes at World Cups, seven Intercontinental Cup golds, four Pan Am Games gold medals, three Central American and Caribbean gold finishes and a gold at the Goodwill Games.
“I’m very, very proud of my dad being a legend in Cuba,” Lourdes Jr. said, through Blue Jays interpreter Hector Lebron. “He’s always been a mentor to me in everything -- as a human being, as a baseball player. Definitely I’m very, very grateful to have him as my dad.”
Though politics forced the elder Gurriel to complete his playing career in his home country, it hasn’t stopped his family from speculating about what the Cuban might have been able to accomplish had he ever made it stateside.
“We talk about it every once in a while,” Yuli said. “We talk about what he would do if he were here playing in the big leagues. Obviously, at that point in time, it was really difficult to leave Cuba to come and play Major League Baseball in the States, but we talk about what he might have been able to do.”
“Definitely, he would have loved to have been able to play in the big leagues,” Lourdes Jr. said. “That’s the one thing that he enjoys the most, is seeing myself and my brother playing here, and I know he really would have enjoyed playing here too.
“If I put my brother and myself together, with all of our home runs and RBIs and everything all together, that would have been what my dad could have done.”
Ahead of Saturday’s matchup, Yuli was slashing .307/.348/.551 with a career-high 27 home runs and 95 RBIs, to go with 37 doubles and two triples for the 35-year-old Astros infielder in 126 games. In 79 contests at the big league level this season, his younger brother has hit .279/.331/.548 with 19 homers, 18 doubles, two triples and 47 RBIs as Toronto’s left fielder.
Matching the totals of his two big league sons is an incredibly tall order, with Yuli currently tearing up the American League and Lourdes Jr. hoping to return from the injured list in the coming days to do the same, but both players believe their father set the bar high and that they’re still trying to catch up to him.
“It’s challenging, because our dad obviously was a superstar in Cuba,” Yuli said. “You’re constantly living in [his] shadow, and trying to live up to those standards and exceed them is always a challenge. He’s always telling us what he likes and what he doesn’t like about our games, so it’s challenging, but it also helps us to get better every single day.”
“He’s the man in charge,” Lourdes Jr. said of his namesake. “Every day, every night after the game, he’s in charge of the reports for each of us. …We will always look up to him. What he’s doing with us right now, talking to us about when he used to play and sharing all of his experiences with us, is very valuable for us and we use it to get better.”
Despite the success they’ve each had this season, Yuli and Lourdes Jr. both wish they had inherited at least one more trait from their dad.
“One of the things that I appreciate most about him and that stood out is that he was always a clutch hitter,” Yuli said. “He always hit in the most challenging and highest-leverage moments. So for me to live up to that is always hard. He did so well in the National Series and World Cups, world competitions, and I try to live up to that, being a clutch hitter in the toughest moments.”
Added Lourdes Jr.: “I didn’t have the chance to see him play a lot, because of course I was too young, but I got the chance to see some videos. But people in Cuba used to call him the most clutch hitter. He was a big-moment guy. I wish I would have had that too.”