Since debuting on June 3, 2013 at Dodger Stadium, there hasn’t been a more polarizing player in Major League Baseball than Yasiel Puig. Even if you love him or hate him, he’s here to stay.
He has bat flipped his way into the hearts of many, but others have been ripe with bitterness and resentment toward the Cuban outfielder. After his Dodger debut, Giants fans were calling for him to be beaned on purpose. Some NL West writers were just unimpressed. The dislike has continued to pour in over the years, but perhaps it is time to focus on winning instead of what Puig is saying or not saying or who he is looking at.
The day after Puig was benched in the series finale in Toronto, a rare sit-down interview with the media shy outfielder was published. ESPN’s Marly Rivera conducted the interview in Spanish which was later translated and edited. Some intriguing insights into Puig’s new motivation and mindset this season along with some fascinating details of his past are included in the article.
“Bryce Harper is my idol now. I’m going to join him in the “make baseball fun again” campaign; I’m just waiting to get my shirts and baseball caps. He’s always been a great friend and a great athlete, and I admire him. I like how he plays the game, and I think he gets it. It’s good to see an American player saying that there needs to be a little more fun in baseball. Fans leave everything behind to come and see us play. We have to make baseball fun for the fans and not take everything so personal”
Puig has embraced Dave Roberts‘ call for a fresh start, and he arrived early to spring training not only leaner physically but also refocused mentally. He even revived his social media presence with amusing photos, self-reflecting hashtags and friendly banter with so-called haters. The problem is, the negativity surrounding him still persists whether he is succeeding on the field or struggling at the plate.
The very same day the interview went up, the LA Today Show posted this poll on Twitter in order to drum up old feelings and negativity:
What do you think the #Dodgers should do with Yasiel Puig?
— LA Today (@LATodayShow) May 9, 2016
It’s no wonder that Puig has been reluctant to open up about himself and his past in Cuba to the media. It’s not like he’s the only player on the Dodgers struggling offensively right now, yet he’s always the first to be targeted.
He even went to Twitter to personally appeal to Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams, who had been a part of the original Puig naysayer faction on Twitter during his rookie season in 2013.
I really hope Yasiel Puig gets a fastball in his ribs tomorrow
— Jared Goff (@JaredGoff16) July 29, 2013
— Yasiel Puig (@YasielPuig) April 29, 2016
It took no time for some to take Puig’s Tweet out of context.
#poll Yasiel Puig’s tweet to Jared Goff: friendly or threatening? -Guillermo
— Dan Le Batard Show (@LeBatardShow) May 2, 2016
It all started with his bat flip and his supposed arrogant style of play. The bat flips caused many to stir with contempt. They said he needed to learn how to be professional and not so immature. Like his olive branch tweet to Goff, his bat flip was taken out of context.
Puig’s bat flip was not something he did to be a show-off, which he has every right to do by the way. It was part of his style. It’s part of his routine. If you have ever watched the World Baseball Classic during the summer, you have seen the machismo and strong sense of masculine pride some of the Latin baseball players demonstrate. Don’t take it so personally. He stopped flipping his bat last season, but it still wasn’t enough to squelch the pessimistic backlash from continuing.
Puig wears his heart on his blue compression sleeve. The D-backs seemed to think Yasiel’s actions after he failed to make a diving catch during the seventh inning of a game during his rookie year was another moment of arrogance and immaturity. Puig kicked the wall when he was unable to make a catch this season as well. It was more of an expression of frustration with himself for not making the play. I can’t say it wasn’t childish, but I will say I appreciate his emotional involvement in the game. Some players act as if they don’t care when they blow a game in the ninth inning or when they drop a ball in the outfield, and there are always those quick to point out their nonchalant attitudes when that happens. Puig cares. He really does.
Even though Puig is in a disappointing slump currently, his defense has been nothing short of spectacular in right field.
“Maybe it’s because of all those years knocking mangoes and mamoncillos down to eat them: Those trees are really high! There may be players with better arms out there, but I am completely fearless when I throw.”
It’s time to accept Puig’s personality and move on to actually trying to hone his baseball talents. The Dodgers need him to catch up to the fastball again and stop swinging at so many pitches outside the zone. He is hitting .235/.285/.383 through his first 31 games this season, something we should be discussing instead of his social activities and sightseeing tours.
We have to remember that Puig grew up in Cuba, and he escaped the hold of Fidel Castro and risked his life to make his dream come true of playing baseball in America. His confidence and aggressive play was formed on the streets of Cienfuegos, Cuba. Let’s relish in his birth-given talents and watch as he matures as a player and a person.
If you take the attitude out of the Puig, you take the baking soda out of the cake. It just doesn’t work. His upbringing and many details still unknown of his life in Cuba have shaped the person and player he is today, memories entwined in the branches of mango trees. He may get caught trying to stretch a double out of a single, but it was sure exciting watching him try, right? Baseball is after all just a game, and I’m all for making it fun again.