By Yusseff Díaz
In Cuba, the Urrutia family is considered baseball royalty. Henry Urrutia’s father, Ermidelio Urrutia who is the patriarch of the clan was a five-tool outfielder and a legendary player with the Las Tunas Lumberjacks. His cousin Osmani was the last player in Cuba to hit .400 and a member of the national team, most notably starring in Cuba’s second place finish in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Before Henry took his first swings with Las Tunas expectations were already lofty for the slugger,” Meeting up to expectations has been a long hard road. I’ve dedicated myself to my craft and its paid off because I’ve had a good career,” said Henry to me a few years ago. ” Since I was a kid, I’ve always put-up good numbers, but I never liked referred as “Ermidelio’s son”, I wanted to make my own path and be Henry Urrutia. This made me work extra hard every day so people would recognize me for my accomplishments, not for my lineage. “
A Major League Dream
In 2011 Urrutia decided to defect from Cuba and try his hand in the professional game. In 2012 he signed with the Baltimore Orioles, but didn’t begin his career until 2013 in AA with the Bowie Baysox, where he hit .365 in 52 games. This earned him a promotion to AAA Norfolk where he once again he did very well hit .316. On July 19 he was promoted to the big leagues and made his debut against the Texas Rangers. In 26 games hit .276 that season. He was called up to the Majors again in 2015 he hit his first big league homer against Carlos Torres of the Mets.” In my first turn at bat in the big leagues I was so nervous that it took me a few seconds before I realized I had accomplished my goal, which was to make it to the Majors. I still feel proud that I was able to reach the big leagues.”
In his two seasons with the Orioles on the grand stage hit .272 but was inexplicably released during the 2017 season. After his release he signed a minor league deal with the Boston Redsox and although he hit .284 was never called up by the ball club. He opted for free agency after the season.
A Winter League Warrior
In his five seasons in the winter leagues primarily in México and Venezuela Urrutia has punished pitching to the tune of a .312 batting average during that time. In 2017 with the Lara Cardinals he lead the Venezuelan Winter League with a .385 batting average yet he opted not to play in the Caribbean World Series, ” Lara asked me to play in the series, but I played a lot of baseball that year and was tired. I needed some rest before the start of the Mexican League season. I had a great season that year in Venezuela and am very proud of what I have accomplished in the Winter Leagues.”
For the 2019 season in the Mexican Winter League with the Jalisco Charros he was a key cog in the team’s attack hitting .323 with nine longballs and 43 runs batted in.
The Mexican League and a return to Cuba
Urrutia signed with the México City Red Devils in 2018 and to his surprise a return to Cuba was in order when the team had a few preseason games with the Cuban National Team,” In reality I never thought I was going to receive such a warm reception from the Cuban fans after such a long hiatus. I was elated with the reception I received, it made me feel warm inside and affirmed to me that no matter where we are in the world the fans of Cuba will support us.”
His first season in México although successful was a turbulent one. Although he hit .370 with 13 longballs and 73 RBI’s but was surprisingly traded to the Oaxaca Warriors late in the season and led the team to a Mexico Series appearance. He was once again a free agent after the season and signed with the Tijuana Toros and once again impressed at the plate yet was once again traded to the Saltillo Saraperos. In Saltillo he took his game to another level hitting .407 with 26 round-trippers and 65 runs batted in. He need only 68 games. In total he deposited 33 balls in the seats, making one of two Cubans to do that last year in México. Not only did he yard 30 times but also hit .370 and drove in 100 runs.
Home sweet home
In his five seasons in the Cuban league with Las Tunas the talented slugger hit .350 with 33 homers and 219 runs batted in. He also posted an impressive slash line of .426/.517/.943 and would one day to return home and play for his old ball club,” I would love to one day return home and play in Mella Stadium. I love my team and will always be a Lumberjack.”
The Urrutia family with the contributions that Ermidelio, Osmani and Henry have made to Cuban baseball might have an argument for being that top baseball family on the island, but then again who outside of the Gurriel clan can dispute this.
The Olympic Dream
When Cuba declared that its doors were opened to defectors not affiliated with MLB to return to its national team Henry was the first to declare his interest in doing so,”I wanted to play for Team Cuba, because I wanted to play in the Olympics like my father did before me.”
The lanky lefty was snubbed by the Cuban delegation after a brief courtship,”I first spoke to (Armando) Ferrer and the another person from the Federation, I think Arizmendi was his name. After those conversations I never heard anything else from them.”
Henry’s Mexican League club the Saraperos de Saltillo were never contacted about the first baseman ‘s participation with the National team,” They never contacted Saltillo or (Roberto) Magdaleno, the team’s GM. But oddly the team’s closer Bruce Carter was allowed to pitch for Team USA, when contacted.
His bat would have been plenty helpful in West Palm Beach, especially with the way he has opened the season hitting a robust .400 and leading the Mexican circuit with seven dingers. Urrutia has also been the player of the week for the last two weeks.
If his career ended today there is one thing that can be said about the slugger, that he gave it his all and did it his way.