Yasiel Puig Phenomenon Is Igniting the Dodgers, City of Los Angeles
In the midst of an absolutely horrible start to the season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig has brought the focus back to Hollywood for all the right reasons thanks to his electrifying start.
On the off chance you haven't seen or heard what he has been doing, Puig, 22, has been white-hot since being called up from Double-A Chattanooga on June 3 before a series against San Diego.
He is currently hitting .500 (16-for-32) with two doubles, four home runs, 10 RBI, a .515 on-base percentage and .938 slugging percentage. He also has two outfield assists, one on a game-ending throw from near the warning track in right field to double up San Diego's Chris Denorfia off first base.
One player on his own isn't going to turn the fortunes of an entire baseball team. As great as Puig has been on the field, the Dodgers are just 4-4 in the eight games he has played and have lost three straight.
Jon Morosi of Fox Sports noted on Twitter what Puig's play has done for the Dodgers in the National League West standings.
Yasiel Puig is hitting .500, but the Dodgers have gained 0 games in the standings since his debut. He can’t do it alone.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 11, 2013
That doesn't mean Puig isn't having a profound impact on both the Dodgers and sports in the city of Los Angeles.
You have to fight to get attention in a place like Hollywood, and if you are not a serious championship contender, those fans will turn away in a heartbeat. On Monday night, with "Puigmania" still on the rise and Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now, on the mound, announced attendance was 38,275. I was watching that game and saw the stands; there is no way that 38,000 people were at Dodgers Stadium on Monday night.
That means the Dodgers, who have spent over $200 million to field a team this season, are already starting to lose their fanbase after entering the season with such high expectations.
So how does Puig factor into all of this?
While it is nearly impossible for any one player to single-handedly turn around a franchise, as long as Puig keeps doing what he has been doing, showing off electrifying baseball skills that make him must-see television every night, the Dodgers will benefit, regardless of what their record might be.
That isn't to say that Puig will hit .500 the rest of the season, because he won't. But he certainly has better tools now than he ever showed prior to signing last year or moving through the minors.
Puig fascinates us because of what he can do on the field, but as Billy Witz of the New York Times noted, the mystery of this young outfielder is just as compelling:
The intrigue in Puig goes beyond his name, his frame (6 feet 3 inches, 245 pounds) and his game, which have prompted comparisons with Bo Jackson, Sammy Sosa and Mike Trout. Much of the curiosity surrounding Puig is how little is known about him, something he prefers to keep that way.
Witz notes that Puig met with his family after a game last Saturday and didn't want them to answer questions.
Who will be the biggest sports star in Los Angeles at the end of 2014?
That cloud of mystery can only help to elevate Puig's allure.
Think about it: The biggest movies and pop-culture events every year are the release of big-budget summer blockbusters like Iron Man, The Dark Knight, The Avengers and Man of Steel.
What do those movies all have in common, aside from the usual action set piece with a bunch of things that go boom? They are all carried by at least one performance from a person whose story and journey is a mystery, even to those closest to him.
Puig has given the Dodgers their own version of Iron Man, Batman or Superman. He is built like a truck at 6'3", 245 pounds, with the kind of speed you see from a track star and power that very few players in baseball can match.
He has developed such a huge cult following that there are already Chuck Norris-like jokes floating around about all the things that Puig can do.
Diamond Hoggers, from the blog of the same name, posted this quip on Twitter about how scary Puig is at the plate and in right field at this moment.
The boogeyman checks for Yasiel Puig under his bed before he goes to sleep.— Diamond Hoggers (@DiamondHoggers) June 11, 2013
Since we already talked about pop-culture, it is important to note that Puig has already made a bit of a dent in that vain. As Dave Pomerantz posted on Twitter, there is a certain mythical creature from South Park who has been re-imagined to fit the legend of Puig.
Stephen Gaffga, a Yankee fan on Twitter, made a timely joke about the power that Puig has not only in baseball circles, but also over a certain NFL team that just made a rather notable signing recently.
@thebiglead Tebow is in league because Yasiel Puig made a phone call to Belichick.— Stephen Gaffga (@yankey4eva) June 11, 2013
This gives the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles something to market around. Puig is not immediately going to be the next Fernando Valenzuela from a marketing perspective, just because when "Fernandomania" started in 1981, the Dodgers were one of the best teams in baseball and played in the World Series against the New York Yankees.
That stage certainly helped propel Valenzuela into the star he would become, but Puig has a much better chance of sustaining his new-found success for a longer period of time. Remember, Valenzuela was done as a top-tier starting pitcher at the age of 26.
Not only does Puig give Los Angeles the star it needs, especially with Matt Kemp and seemingly every other position player in the Dodgers lineup slumping, to generate interest, but it can be a huge event that lasts through the rest of the season and into 2014 and beyond.
There is a burning desire to see baseball succeed in Los Angeles, from fans who love the team, to ownership that spent several fortunes buying the team and a couple more to put this group together, to Major League Baseball, which would love to have the L.A. market back in the playoffs.
While success may not come in 2013, Puig and the attention that his incredible play right out of the gate has generated will make baseball in Los Angeles relevant the rest of the season. Dodgers games and Puig at-bats have become must-see events, which might actually be more beneficial in some respects than winning games.
Los Angeles is a city that will show up when a team is winning, but it is also a place that is attracted to stars above all else. Puig is bringing that passion and fire out in Dodgers fans who have felt let down by what they have seen so far.
The future is bright in Los Angeles, and Puig is the star of the show.
If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.
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