With 10 years on his younger brother, Yuli Gurriel beat Lourdes Jr. to the big-league dream, one so dear to the family and the baseball-mad island of Cuba.
He made it to the major leagues first and as a rookie with the World Series champion Houston Astros, also got the first look at the pinnacle of the sport.
But when it comes to who is the best of the Gurriel family – truly Cuban baseball royalty – Yuli gives it up to his little brother and Blue Jays shortstop.
“You will see it and it won’t be long,” Yuli Gurriel told us at Yankee Stadium during last year’s ALCS. “I don’t want to put the pressure on him but he is a better hitter and a better runner than I am. My little brother is the best in the family.”
The Gurriel story is not only fascinating but timely. If you missed it, both brothers hit a pair of homers on Friday – Yuli in Houston and Lourdes in Toronto. It was the first time in history that brothers hit multiple major league home runs on the same day.
“My parents were so happy that they didn’t know what to do with themselves,” Yuli Gurriel told reporters in Houston. “Sometimes I have a good game an sometimes he has a good game but for us to have a great game together is very special.”
It’s about to get even more so on Monday when the Astros arrive for a three-game series at the Rogers Centr, tthe first time that the brothers will face each other in a game.
As you would expect, those contests will be much anticipated by anyone connected with Cuban baseball. The two Gurriels currently are just the latest in a family where pedigree in the sport runs deep.
Their father Lourdes has legendary status on the island. He batted. 400 in helping Cuba to a gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and later became a coach and manager in his homeland, where he is still revered.
“Everyone just respected them as a very special family everywhere in Cuba,” fellow Cuban Blue Jay Kendrys Morales said through Jays translator Josue Peley. “It’s not only their Dad, Lourdes, it’s the whole family. The Dad, the sons, their uncles and their cousins were all baseball players and they were all really good.
“It’s just amazing to see.”
While 24-year-old Lourdes is just 63 games into his big-league career he’s already banged out 11 homers this year to 34-year-old Yuli’s 12 in 65 this season. Both have the world of potential, it would seem.
As much talk and anticipation as there has been for the 2019 touchdown of Vlad Guerrero Jr., the early signs point to the younger Gurriel being a dynamic part of the Jays future. It’s been especially that way since Gurriel returned from a stint in Buffalo after his pitch-chasing swing got a little loose and wild.
“One of the reasons we sent him down is I thought he was starting to press a little bit,” Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’s a free swinger anyway but he was chasing everything. He worked on some things and then he game back and had that (11-game hitting streak.)
“He just keeps getting better and better the more he’s out there.”
It was certainly in evidence on Friday when Gurriel’s pair of homers including a mammoth 450-foot blast off a 99.1 mile per hour fastball.
When the Jays signed the younger Gurriel to a seven-year, $22 million US deal back in 2016, what we’ve seen of late is certainly the type of player they had scouted.
Meanwhile, the four-homer Gurriel night was still the talk of the baseball world on Saturday.
The pair now have something in common with the Ripken brothers (Cal and Billy) and the DiMaggio’s (Joe and Dom) who each combined for four in one day, albeit with a 3-1 split with the more famous siblings leading the way in each case.
“You barely see that not just in the big leagues but anywhere to see two brothers play against each other,” Morales said of the anticipation for Monday. “I know the family very well and I’ve known them for a long time.
“It’s going to be fun to be a part of it and to watch.”
And you can bet that given the path they’ve taken to get here, the brothers are savouring the reunion as well
“Just warming up to face big bro (Yuli) on Monday,” Lourdes Gurriel tweeted on Saturday. “It’s gonna be fun.”