HOUSTON (AP) — Yuli Gurriel is savoring his place with the Houston Astros as they chase their second trip to the World Series.
Still, there's a part of him that yearns for the country he left behind for his shot in the majors as a 30-something rookie. Each time he buttons up his Astros jersey, he carries the weight of the four letters he wore across his chest for so many years.
"I know that in one way or another I am representing them, representing Cuba," Gurriel told The Associated Press.
Gurriel signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Astros in July 2016 following a 15-year career in Cuba, where he starred professionally and helped the national team win gold medals at the 2004 Olympics and the World Cup in 2003 and 2005.
For boys in many countries, playing in a World Series is a lifelong dream. That wasn't the case for Gurriel growing up.
"In Cuba, the focus was different: represent the nation," he said. "Every time we would travel abroad, go for the gold. Silver was not acceptable. It's that demanding. (Starting) at 9 years old, for me it was huge."
Gurriel was under the spotlight in elementary school because his father was a national superstar — Lourdes Gurriel helped Cuba win a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics and six more golds at the World Cup from 1980-1994.