Rosie DiManno: Brothers Gurriel love their baseball, and each other

Rosie DiManno: Brothers Gurriel love their baseball, and each other
The hair. We’re talking about the signature hip-hop hair: A high fade with voluminous quiff, finger-combed into a fan-tail of spikes.

Un-gelled, we think. Or at least it felt soft and supple when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. once allowed us to run our own fingers through his coif.

Yulieski Gurriel insists he came up with the widely admired tresses — as popular a topic in Houston as Toronto — first, if by chance. “One morning I woke up and my hairs was like that, (runs hands through the stick-out flip), and people just started liking it. When his hair grew out, he started doing it too. ‘’

Well of course Lourdes emulated Yuli. He’s always followed in the footsteps of his decade-older ‘bro, both followed in the footsteps of their oldest brother Yunieski (Yuni), and all three sons — mis tres hijos — followed in the footsteps of their illustrious father, Lourdes Gurriel Sr.

They are the princelings of Cuban baseball royalty.

MLB series preview: Houston Astros at Toronto Blue Jays

On Monday night, for the first time since Yulieski and Lourdes defected together in February 2016 — disappearing from the national team after playing in the Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic — the two hermanos were on a ballfield again, at the same time, in the Major Leagues, as opponents.

“I’m very proud to be here with my little Yunito, my little brother,” Yulieski, 34, told reporters at a pre-game Gurriel & Gurriel dais session, through interpreter Josue Peley. “It’s something that’s a dream come true, something that’s amazing and I’m very proud of him and us being together here.

“I still don’t believe that he’s here in the big leagues and how fast he made it.”

Thumbnail background: The siblings slipped away in what had been a long-considered and covertly planned escape, having paid human traffickers a 7-figure sum and ultimately arriving in the U.S. Yulieski had spent 15 years with the Serie Nacional club and national team but he longed for the opportunity to chase MLB fortune, an ambition which had not been shared by older brother Yunieski, a stalwart of the national club.

Long story shortened: Yulieski, slugger, Olympic gold medallist, signed a $47.5 million (U.S.) contract in July 2016, with the Astros and of course copped a World Series ring that autumn. Lourdes — Yunito as he’s known (a diminutive distinguishing little Lourdes from his namesake big Lourdes) — not long afterward picked the Blue Jays from among several suitors, inking a seven-year, $22 million contract as a minor league free agent that included a $3-million signing bonus.

The shortstop, Yunito, and the first baseman, Yuli, combined last Friday — albeit some 2,000 kilometres apart — for four home runs and 9 RBIs total, becoming the first brother-set to each record multi-jack games (two apiece) on the same day in the majors.

Awesome, dudes.

“I feel very proud and very fortunate to be here,” chimed in Lourdes, 24, about the baseball family reunion. “ And to have your older brother playing in the same league as you, and follow him, know that he was somebody you looked up to when you were younger, is something that’s amazing.”

“It’s funny, people ask me that a lot, what’s it going o be like on the field?’’ said Yuli to the obligatory and obvious question about going mano-a-mano with Kid Gurriel. “We’re close, we’re brothers, but when the game starts, between the lines, we’re on different teams.’’

Lourdes, who is very much the shyer one, clearly deferential to his big ’bro: “We’ve always been very competitive with each other, not just on the field but off the field too. We’re very competitive with video games also so I don’t think that will change.”

“My mother made a jersey, half and half, me and him, because she can’t choose,” laughed Yuli. Really, no guff — half-Jays, half-Astros, both numbers on the back.

In any event, the spectacle lasted all of an inning. After Yuli stroked an RBI single in the top of the first inning, Lourdes hit into a double-play in the bottom of the inning, showing a discernible hitch in his stride as he ran to first. He left the game immediate thereafter with left hamstring tightness.

“He was our idol when we were younger,” said Yuli of a dad who dazzled as a player and then managed, both Sancti Spiritus in league play and the national squad. “We looked up to him. My dad was a legend. Everybody always expected us to be like him or close to him.’’

It wasn’t always enviable, being an adored Gurriel.

“For us, we were under the shadow of him at all time,” continued Yuli. “It hasn’t been so hard for us. It was harder for Lourdes because he didn’t only have my dad but also me and our older brother. It was harder for him to achieve and accomplish whatever he’s accomplished so far.”

Lourdes shrugs that off.

“I’m the fortunate one. Because I was the youngest, I had a chance not just to look at him (Yuli) but also my other brother and my dad. See how they went about their business, not only on but also off the field, their discipline and respect for the game.”
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