Bronx, N.Y. — Some of life’s purest moments are found in the simplest form, they can be found through the interaction between a baseball player and two of his biggest fans. An interaction that soon transformed into a lifelong bond between sisters Claudia Mejia Lasalla, Krystal Gutierrez Navarré and New York Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela.
Born in Cartagena, Colombia, Claudia and Krystal grew up loving the game of baseball. They traveled over 1,100 miles from their home in Kissimmee, FL to the Bronx to see one of their favorite baseball players in pinstripes.
“We have followed Gio and all the Colombian players from the minute they get drafted,” Claudia said, “We support them and introduce ourselves and are there for them if they need anything at all.”
The two sisters have a deeply rooted connection with the Yankees All-Star who is also from Cartagena. They have followed Urshela throughout his career, which the 27-year-old third baseman took note of, “When I was in Cleveland she got the jersey from the Indians, when I went to Toronto she got the jersey from Toronto and she got the Urshela Yankees jersey. That’s news to me that I’m doing a good job of making my fans happy,” Urshela said on his two most admirable fans.
“The first time we met him he was so kind and humble.” Claudia said reflecting on the first time she met Urshela, “He made my sister feel very special. Since she has blood and bone cancer she gets a lot of looks, laughs from rude people, she is very shy and insecure because of it. Gio went out of his way to hold a very long conversation with us and looked her in the eyes telling her to keep fighting everyday and that she will make it.”
Little did Urshela know the impact he made in those moments conversing and interacting with Claudia and Krystal.
On day one of a three game series against the Toronto Blue Jays, Claudia and Krystal stood patiently behind the symbolic Yankees logo during batting practice at Yankee Stadium, their eyes skimmed the field for Urshela who had just completed his session in the batting cage. He walked over to them with a smile on his face and embraced them. An embrace that spoke louder than words. For Krystal it was an embrace that instilled comfort, shunning the memories of the trails and tribulations fighting cancer has brought into her life, it was an embrace that provided peace.
“She (Krystal) tells me that he is one of the reasons she fights and pushes through all the pain,” Claudia said, “Baseball is her life and it gives her something to look forward to in these hard times. A way to disconnect and forget about all the aches and pain.”
There have been 23 Colombian players in Major League Baseball since Lou Castro made his debut for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1902. Despite marking his footprint early on in the history books, it took 72 years following Castro’s debut for Colombian born player Orlando Ramírez to become the second Colombian to play in the majors. There are eight Colombians actively playing in Major League Baseball.
“It’s the best feeling to be represented.” Claudia said proudly of Gio Urshela being a member of the New York Yankees, “There is not enough Colombian players in the majors because we know the talent is there. They just have to keep grinding it out because each year we get more and more making it and representing our home country, it’s something that gives me goosebumps every time I see them playing.”
Despite the distinctly low amount of Colombian players in the majors, Claudia and Krystal vow to continue their support for Gio Urshela and Colombian players that come into the league. They will be voting for Urshela to start in his All-Star game in Cleveland on July 9.
“Gio is the most humble and big-hearted man I have ever met,” Claudia expressed, “We are praying and will be voting for him for the All-Star game as he deserves to be there. He’s an all-star player and an even bigger all-star human being.”
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