The Dodgers have begun spring training over in Glendale, Arizona a week earlier than all of the other teams except the Diamondbacks — they will be flying to Australia to start the official baseball season together a week before the other teams, then come back and resume spring training (nothing weird about that...) Yasiel Puig made a big splash in spring training a year ago but was sent to the minors for a couple of months before making his huge ker-splash with the Dodgers in LA. There were definitely holes to his game, to go with the questions about his maturity and his driving, and all eyes will be on Puig this season.
ESPN the Magazine features players from Cuba in its new issue, including a revealing profile of Puig and some fashion photos of the outfielder. Excerpt:
This 23-year-old Dodgers outfielder operates at a frequency everyone can hear. Anticipation builds, apathy dies. The eye is drawn. Embedded within the two messages is the acknowledgment of these qualities, of Puig's potentially transformative role in the game, his outsize talent coupled with the naked and fierce joy with which he displays it....
There are no photos of him as a child on display in his home. There is no real backstory, just a handful of vague, disconnected -- and sometimes uncorroborated -- anecdotes that combine to create the effect of 50 pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle.
What do we know? Everyone has a creation story, a concise tale oft-told that provides a synopsis for everything we see on a court or a field. Adversity is overcome, slights magically transform into eternal motivation, tragedies provide inspiration. In Puig's case -- and in the case of most Cuban players -- we know only what he and those around him are willing to divulge. Circumspection is a necessary cultural trait.
What we know: Puig grew up in an educated but poor household in Cienfuegos, about 150 miles southeast of Havana, with his parents and a younger sister. His father, Omar, was an engineer in a sugarcane factory. When Yasiel began playing organized baseball at 9, Omar gathered wood to give to a friend, who made Yasiel's first bats.
Also this: He sounds like a lot of other young millionaire athletes.
The house is classic Florida. Big, pillars and palms and lots of white stucco. There are two English bulldogs out back near the huge fake-rock waterfall slide, a $300,000 white Rolls in the garage and a sleek white Mercedes under the portico in the circular drive out front.
Puig is inside, slouched in a fancy white upholstered chair in the middle of an enormous front room, wearing a white T-shirt with Dodgers shorts and Dodgers shower shoes and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes at half past noon on an 80-degree November Sunday. His biceps flare with each eye rub, and several times he pats his not-inconsequential stomach and vows to start working out tomorrow. He is quick and bright, but he's answering questions with so little enthusiasm that his sister, Yaima, chastises him for "using the same adjective over and over." Yasiel is speaking Spanish through an interpreter, but his English is evolving quickly. He doesn't need the questions translated before he answers, and he will occasionally answer in English if there is no fear of being misconstrued. He approaches the interview process, like anything that forces him to be both stationary and at the mercy of others, as one step from outright torture.