Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Meet Yuniesky Betancourt

One of the youngest and most talented players to leave Cuba recently is playing great shortstop for the Seattle Mariners on a regular basis. He will be
very well known by the time this season ends by
everybody in the American (and some in the National League) who sees this young man play.

By Amaury Pi-GonzálezOmar Vizquel, playing shorstop for the Giants since 2005 won his 10th Gold Glove and he is just three behind Ozzie Smith, who won 13, tops for a shortstop. Vizquel began his Hall of Fame career
in Seattle with the Mariners of 1989, when the Giants and Athletics World Series was interrupted by the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Today in Seattle with the Mariners another great fielding shortstop is on the way. His name is
Yuniesky Betancourt, 24 years old, born in Santa Clara,Cuba. Mild manner and easy going this young Cuban shortstop just broke in his new glove at the start of the 2006 season.

He uses a small glove “Me gusta asi, chiquito para poder sacar la bola del guante rápido” -“I like my glove small, so I can take the ball out quickly”.
He has a small Cuban flag in living color on the outside of his glove. To ‘break’his glove in he
inserted the new glove for a few minutes each day inside a microwave so that it gets”soft”(according to what he told me).

Yuniesky said he was given that name because when he was born in 1982, many Cuban families named their sons after Rusian names. Cuba was then still supported economically by what was the ‘Soviet Union’ to the tune of over $15 billion per year.

Yuniesky escaped from Cuba to Mexico before signing with Seattle in 2005 and hit .523 as the starting shortstop for the 17-18 year old Cuban
National Team during the 2000 World Championships. But is his glove what makes him a star.

He can make all the plays a Major League shortstop has to made and then some. When asked
about “How much do you think will be your batting average during this whole season, your first” he
said “De verdad que no se” (I really do not know)
“Tengo que jugar todo el año”(I have to play the whole year) and that he is doing, he has become
one of the favorite players for those that appreciate great defensive skills in a defensive
position. His best friend with the team is secondbaseman José López, born in Venezuela and
only 22 years old. “Tenemos una gran relación y nos llevamos muy bien en el terreno y afuera”
(We get along very well, we are very good friends on the field and off the field).

It is important that Yuniesky and José are basically starting their careers together, they are growing together, learning together. They have already made some tremendous plays, including some
really great double-plays, but for Yuniesky it is all
about his very first year in the Major Leagues. His favorite baseball park is Safeco Field in Seattle,
were he told me -talking about the condition of the infield- “Es el mejor cuadro que yo he jugado en mi vida”(It is the best infield I have ever played in my life). When I asked him about besides Safeco which
park was his favorite he said: “Sin duda alguna
el de Cleveland” (Without a doubt the one in Cleveland). Why ? …Because is very well proporcionate and I just like the look and feel of it.

Yuniesky Betancourt is not the youngest Mariner.
That belongs to Félix Hernández the 20-year old that was leading the American League in strike outs, although at the time of this column he was winless this season, simply because the team has not been doing much offensively and there are no ties in baseball. But Yuniesky is part of the youth movement in Seattle.

As he was getting ready to leave on the second roadtrip of the season to Baltimore,Minnesota and
Chicago he was just as quiet as when I first met him during the 2005 Spring Training Peoria,Arizona, but he is starting to smile a little bit more.

Prior to the April 26 game at Safeco(which the Mariners won 5-1 against the World Champion
White Sox, taking the series two games to one)
I told him if he was aware that -to that day-he was among 3 shortstops that have not committed an
error yet(the others; White Sox Juan Uribe and
Astros Adam Everett, he said: “No…ahora que me dices eso…yo no lo sabía,pero eso no me preocupa,solo quiero jugar todos los días y ayudar a mi equipo” ( that you tell me, I was not aware of that, but all I want to do is keep playing everyday and help my team)

Just like Omar Vizquel whom at 38 became the oldest shortstop ever to earn a Golden Glove,
Yuniesky Betancourt could be developing that reputation at one of the most important positions
in the game and by the time he is 38 could also have a nice collection of such awards. But those
he will not have to put inside the microwave, he would have to have a nice trophy case to show his family and friends for all to admire. Hopefully many years prior to that he can share it with his family.

Yuniesky Betancourt still trying to get his family out of Cuba and into the United States. It is not easy for a Cuban player -after defecting- to bring his family into the US. The Cuban government has a way to ostercize families left behind by players
that have escaped the island. It is a sad comment
that 47 years after his revolution Castro still rules the island with the threat of fear. But nobody can beat time and Fidel Castro will be gone soon and
Cuba will have no choice but to change to a more
“civilized”type of government where people can
be free to travel and free to express themselves.

Like Yuniesky first told me in Peoria in 2005
“This is the best baseball league in the world and all that I wanted as a baseball player is to come here and further my career, it is too bad that my country doesn’t allow me that opportunity and I had to escape to attain my goal”.


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