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Cuban infielder Gourriel embraces challenge of playing for BayStars

Kyodo

Yulieski Gourriel, the second Cuban international to sign a contract this season with a Japanese club, said Thursday he is aware of the challenge that lies ahead.

Speaking to the media in Havana before his departure for Japan, where he will play for the Yokohama BayStars, the Cuban star said there will be obstacles to overcome.

“There is no doubt that this is a huge challenge,” said the 29-year-old infielder, who has won Olympic gold and silver and has played in all three World Baseball Classics. “Because I have no experience playing in such a high-level league, at first I’ll probably have to confront various differences.”

Chief among the challenges will be Japanese pitching.

Gourriel played third base and batted .280 in last year’s WBC, although he went 0-for-4 in Cuba’s 6-3 win over Japan in Fukuoka. Gourriel has said he lost 5 kg in two weeks because of his dislike for Japanese food.

With Venezuelan star Aarom Baldiris holding down third for the BayStars, Gourriel’s flexibility will be a plus for the struggling Central League club.

Since the Cuban government lifted its ban on players moving overseas in January, national team star Frederich Cepeda was first to take to the field in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants.

“I’m very satisfied to be a trailblazer,” Gourriel said. “I feel so grateful.”