Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig is a lightning rod for controversy in MLB circles. As a result of the constant attention he receives for his actions both on and off the field, the personal journey the young superstar has gone through just to get in this country is something no one talks about.
In a story written by Jesse Katz for Los Angeles magazine, Puig's journey from escaping Cuba to playing baseball in Hollywood gets the in-depth treatment. It's a fascinating story, including harrowing quotes from the 23-year-old about life in his home country:
There is a saying in Cuba, Puig told me: "Dormir es cuando te toca a morir." The phrase loses something in translation, but not much: Sleep is when it’s your turn to die. "For that reason," he continued in Spanish, "I sleep with one eye open."
Katz also wrote that the smugglers who got Puig into the United States continued to demand money from him after he signed a $42 million deal from the Dodgers, and that members of the mob were threatening his life.
The fan and media backlash against Puig almost from the moment he came up last season has only gotten louder the more he plays.
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times seems to be leading the Puig-bashing club, writing on March 26 that the Dodgers were being too conservative with their treatment of him:
Here's hoping (manager Don) Mattingly feels the freedom to do (properly discipline Puig). For the Dodgers to work, Mattingly needs to be able to bench Puig without apology, hold him accountable without clarification, and run a professional dugout that accepts no excuses.
The rinse and repeat needs to cease and desist.
Yet you can tell that the Dodgers aren't entirely sure what to do about Puig because of his difficulties in leaving Cuba and entering the United States. General manager Ned Colletti is quoted in Katz's piece saying as much.
"Whatever he went through and whatever the challenges and frustrations were—unless you’ve been through it—I don’t think we can completely understand," Colletti said.
Puig, based on Katz's story, understands that there are things he has to change in order to be the best person and baseball player he can be.
There is mention of his December arrest for driving 110 mph with his mother in the car, which was partially captured on the police officer's dashboard camera:
Left alone in the rear of the squad car, Puig bellows, off camera, in frustration. It is the voice of someone who has traveled far but keeps returning to the same place. "Why the f*** do you have to drive fast, Puig?" he howls to himself in Spanish. "You have to learn, compadre."
It's important to remember that Puig is still just a 23-year-old who came from a completely different land, went through hell trying to get here, stayed in some form of hell trying to keep what is rightfully his and is playing baseball all at the same time.
No one can know what it's like to be Puig, but Katz's feature offers plenty of details and compelling quotes from the young player that help provide a clearer idea.
The good news, for those who want to see a more mature player on the field, is Puig clearly recognizes things have to change. You don't curse at yourself in the back of a police car, then tell yourself that you have to learn without wanting to get better.
The Dodgers have a lot of money invested in Puig, not to mention the obvious benefit he provides on the field, so it will be in their best interest to do anything and everything they can to make him feel at peace in his surroundings.
If he finds some respite on a baseball field, occasionally making a mistake like missing the cutoff man or getting caught trying to take an extra base, it shouldn't be treated like the worst thing in the world.
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