'Gen Y' players move in college, pro ranks
The Cubans call them Generation Y. Children born in the late 1970s and '80s whose parents creatively used the 25th letter of the alphabet for inspiration. Many of them grew up to be athletes. Case in point: First names on Cuba's preliminary roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic included Yulieski, Yunesky, Yoelvis, Yonelvis, Yadier, Yaumier, Yolexis, Yoandry, Yadil, Yoennis.
One-third of the players in this season's Cuban baseball league had first names that started with Y, according to Enrique Montesinos, sports writer for the Cuban national daily, Granma.
No one is really sure how it started, Montesinos said, but by 2003 there was no mistaking the large numbers of young people, particularly athletes, with names such as Yipsi, Yoel, Yosvanis, Yanina, Yuniesky and Yorelvis.
Cuban writer Yoani Sanchez gained international acclaim with her blog, Generacion Y, in which she encourages "Yanisleidi, Yoandri, Yusimi, Yuniesky and others who carry their 'Y's' to read me."
More than a third of the Cuban baseball and boxing teams at the 2003 Pan American Games had first names beginning with the alphabet's penultimate letter, inspiring theories as to why "Y" was so popular.
Eduardo Perez, son of Cuban-born Hall of Famer Tony Perez, credits the Soviet influence in Cuba in the late '70s and the imitation of Russian names like Yasser, Yuri, Yakov and Yevgeni.
Jorge Morejon, who emigrated to the United States in 1998 and blogs about baseball for ESPNdeportes.com, discounts that commonly held theory.
"So not true," said Morejon. "The Soviets, apart from some horrible construction on Fifth Avenue [in Havana], didn't have much influence on Cubans, who always looked to the North."
A desire to buck the trend of traditional names from Cuba's Spanish and Catholic influences -- Jose, Javier, Maria, Pablo or Jesus -- is another theory.
"Of the 10 most common names in Cuba, there is still none that start with this letter," said Montesinos.
Whatever the reason, University of Miami junior catcher Yasmani Grandal, who left Cuba when he was 10, and his mom, Maria Luisa Gomez, got caught up in the trend.
Grandal, named for a soap opera star, may soon join some 200 players who have names beginning with Y who have moved through the minor league ranks in the past decade-and-a-half, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Some of the better-known ones, like Cincinnati Reds first baseman Yonder Alonso and Kansas City shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, are among the 14 Cubans active in the past two years.
The trend also spilled over to the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, where most of the rest of the 186 minor leaguers hail from.
Dominican Junior Noboa, a former major league infielder, said that Harrisburg Senators pitcher Yunior Novoa was named in his honor.
Leo Lopez, baseball analyst for Channel 37 in Santo Domingo, said some folks may have got their J's and Y's crossed -- either by accident or on purpose -- which would explain the popularity of Yunior (Novoa), Yoel (Hernandez), Yancarlo (Angulo) and Yefri (Carvajal).
With thousands of Dominican players shuttling through the minor leagues each season, 200 whose names start with Y do not a trend make. Lopez and Noboa chalk it up to creative use of the alphabet.
Simply put, the Y's have it.
Gabrielle Paese is an editor for ESPN.com and the former sports editor at The San Juan Star in San Juan, Puerto Rico.