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Here's why Cuban baseball player names start with the letter Y

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Cuba's "Gen Y" players discuss their unique names (1:37)

Marly Rivera quizzes Yurisbel Gracial and Yoélkis Céspedes about the unique Cuban naming custom they share. (1:37)

Ever wonder why many Cuban baseball players have names that start or carry the letter Y?

Consider that eight of the 28 players on Cuba's winter league champion Alazanes de Granma roster for the 2018 Serie del Caribe have given names that start with the letter Y, including Yoelkis Céspedes, the younger half-brother of New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes. There's also catcher Yulexis La Rosa; infielders Yurisbel Gracial, Yulián Milán and Yordan Manduley; and pitchers Yanier González, Yoannis Yera and Yoalkis Cruz. And there's even a surname with a Y belonging to infielder Jorge Antonio Yhonson.

"For me, it's an honor to have a name that starts with Y and share that with the great MLB players who have them as well," said Yoelkis Céspedes.

The late Cuban baseball broadcaster Eddy Martin called them “impossible names.” Griping on air about the difficulty to pronounce and spell them, Martin claimed he heard “over 400 variations” of the style.

It’s not a mere coincidence, either. The rise in popularity of names starting with this letter has been chronicled in the past. Famed Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez has been writing about Generación Y (Generation Y, both the title of her blog and the name she's given the phenomenon) for more than a decade. The blog also chronicles daily life in Cuba, providing a unique peek into the island.

Sánchez has been widely praised for Generación Y, including being named to Time's Most Influental People list in 2008. A year later, President Barack Obama name-dropped the blog when talking about Cuba, praising it in the process.

The how and why of the naming phenomenon is still somewhat unknown.

"I don't have a definite answer for it," Yurisbel Gracial told ESPN Deportes reporter Marly Rivera. "I know that in Cuba it's very usual for people to have their names start with Y, but I don't really know where it comes from."

Andy Gomez, a retired director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, asserted it came about from the Soviet influence on the island’s population in the 1980s.

“You had a distinct Soviet influence; you had Russians who would marry Cubans and named their kids with the distinctive letter,” said Gomez.

An added bonus for the socialist regime was straying away from more common and traditional Catholic fare like Pedro, María, Jesús and Juan.

Sánchez wrote in her book Cuba Libre about her countrymen's tendency to utilize anything -- including names -- to make a statement either critical or supportive of their government: “In Cuba, there is no middle ground. Everyone is either a revolutionary or a counterrevolutionary.”

In Cuban baseball, Generación Y is well represented beyond the current Caribbean Series roster. A total of 12 Cuban-born ballplayers who have first names starting with Y are either current or former major league baseball players. The list includes L.A. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, White Sox infielder Yoan Moncada, Indians first baseman Yonder Alonso and the aforementioned Céspedes. All members of the Generación Y fraternity in MLB were born after 1980, as well.

The trend, also observed on last year's World Baseball Classic roster, contained another eight players belonging to Generación Y: Yosvany Alarcón, Yurisbel Gracial, Yasmany Hernández, Yosvany Torres, Yoanni Vera as well as Granma’s Cruz and Céspedes.

Beyond baseball, Generación Y is also present in other Cuban sporting pursuits. One of the country's Olympic medalists in Rio 2016, wrestler Yasmany Lugo, took home silver in the 98-kg Greco-Roman division. At London 2012, four more stepped on the podium, ranging from boxing to athletics: Yanet Bermoy (judo), Yarisley Silva, Yarelys Barrios (both athletics) and Yasniel Toledo (boxing).

In fact, of all the Generación Y athletes who have reached an Olympic podium, only one did so before the year 2000: volleyball player Yumilka Ruíz, who was part of the Atlanta 1996 squad that took home the gold.

It is unclear whether the names of Generación Y will live on for future generations of Cubans. Dr. Gomez asserts that Cubans will revert back to more traditional names.

“In the island, people will move away from it either as a rejection of the continuation of the Marxist-Leninist regime, and because there’s a certain psychological stigma for people with made up names,” said the scholar.

Follow the Caribbean Series on ESPNDeportes.com here. WatchESPN carries Spanish-language broadcast of the semifinals and final here.