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Industiales: The 'Yankees of Cuba' brought some unity to Florida

The "Industriales" of Cuba are considered to be the Yankees of their country. The team won 12 Championships in the 52 year history of Cuba's "Serie Nacional."
The "Industriales" of Cuba are considered to be the Yankees of their country. The team won 12 Championships in the 52 year history of Cuba's "Serie Nacional."
Photo by Miguel A. Sanchez

Baseball succeeds when religion and government fail to bring people together. This is another example, a game held last year on the field of Alonzo High School in Tampa, Florida. The "Industriales" of Cuba are considered the "Yankees" of their country. They've won 12 championships in the 52 year history of Cuba's "Serie Nacional."

Enrique Díaz is an ageless Cuban Baseball Player that has played in the Cuban League for more than 25 years. Although he never played for the national team, He is the All Time Hits leader in the Cuban League.
Photo by Miguel A. Sanchez

To celebrate 50 years of winning baseball, "Somos Cuba Entertainment Group" organized a game for retired "Industriales" players, both from Havana and Miami to matches in an exchange of long time reunions.

Florida International University (FIU) was originally set to host the "50th Anniversary" event. NBC Miami reported that the school caved in to a local exile group. With anticipated hostility at the park, FIU backed out of the deal, due to a "contractual situation." Apparently, FIU had political pressure from the Cuban-American Right in South Florida to not sponsor anything from the Cuban Government.

The retired "Industriales" arrived in Miami Aug 12, 2013. They were reunited with old friends and family, they made a few television appearances, and they went on a couple of guided tours. But, without a baseball field, no one really knew where they would play the exhibition games. Also on the itinerary was an "Industriales" meeting with Cuban phenom Yasil Puig who was in town with the LA Dodgers to play the Miami Marlins.

Cuban Legend Lazaro Vargas was again selected to manage the current "Industriales" team. The season is played in the Fall. Lazaro Vargas also took the short flight to Miami from Havana. But, he was anxious to get back to his team. BBC News reported that he once refused a $10M offer, in his prime, to leave Cuba for the U.S.

Decisions are life changing for a Cuban ball player. Some have defected to play Major League Baseball and others have stayed to excel at National or International Competition. Since 2008, over 80 players have defected from Cuba for an opportunity to play professional baseball, and with just as many different reasons why. But, the love of the game is the same.

In the 2014 All Star Game, there were 5 Cuban born ball players on the roster; Yoenis Cespedes (now with Boston Red Sox), Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox), Alexis Ramirez (Chicago White Sox), Yaseil Puig (LA Dodgers), and Aroldis Chapman (Cincinnati Reds). All of them are highly touted MLB players.

Meanwhile, Yulieski Gourriel has been paving his own path. He also played for the "Industriales" and was a dominant hitter in the "Serie Nacional" of 2004-05 and 2005-06. Yulieski Gourriel turned professional with an approval from the Cuban Government, signing a one year contract in May of 2014 with the "Yokohama DeNA BayStars" of Nippon Professional Baseball. He's a "Cuban Derek Jeter" in Japan and his bling is in medals from International Competition (9, gold, 3 silver, and 1 bronze), including the Olympics.

His older brother, Yunieski Gourrel, played for the Industriales last year and was also sent officially by Cuba to Canada to fufill his contract with "Quebec les Capitals" minor league team. He is the first to sign for a club in Canada, real easy to confuse the names of the two brothers. And yes, "Quebec les Capitales" crosses the border to play in the U.S. Among others, fellow Cubans like Frederich Cepeda have also signed in Japan. Baseball continues to change lives.

At the end of the day, the "Industriales" played a couple of games, here at Alonzo High School, with the "Miami All Stars." Cuban born Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez once crafted his pitching skills here at Alonzo High School, winning the 6A State Championship twice. "Somos Cuba Entertainment Group" also found a venue for a game in Fort Lauderdale Stadium, where the New York Yankees once held their spring training between 1962 and 1995.

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