I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t make a point of following the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was a Dodger fan as a child growing up in the 80’s – largely by default due to the fact that my parents lived in greater Los Angeles and they were Dodger fans. After all, you really don’t have much of a choice when you’re six years old. Your Dad likes the Dodgers, and so do you.
It’s nothing personal. The Dodgers are a historic club and an incredible organization (the McCourt era being the exception, of course). You either like Pepsi or Coke, the Jets or the Giants, the Cubs or the White Sox. The same applies to the Dodgers and Angels – that’s just the way it is.
I remember when I made the switch. It was April of 1986 – the California Angels had just welcomed a young rookie named Wally Joyner. There was just something about watching Joyner getting pulled off the bag while applying a swipe tag in mid-air that made you want to root for the young first baseman. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1988 yet my fascination with “Wally World” and the California Angels continued into the 90’s. California, Anaheim, Los Angeles. Whatever you want to call them. Just like Coca-Cola, I’ve been an “Angels guy” ever since.
That being said, even to this day there are certain things involving that “other” Los Angeles team that tend to get my attention. Yasiel Puig just happens to be one of those things.
A young rookie puts his team on his back and takes Southern California (and Major League Baseball) by storm. Haven’t we heard this story before? Similar to Mike Trout’s 2012 rookie campaign, Puig has put the baseball world on notice. The 6’3”, 245 lb linebacker…I mean, outfielder from Palmira, Cuba is currently batting .427 with 7 HR’s, 16 RBI’s and a ridiculous 1.165 OPS. Sure, he’s only had 94 plate appearances. But sabermetrics and college statistics be damned – even the baseball statisticians who are obsessed with “sample size” agree that Puig is a special player.
I decided to tune in one night to see what all the fuss was about. I had heard Puig’s name during spring training (I thought it was odd) but didn’t know much about the guy other than he was from Cuba. It was the Dodgers second game following Puig’s MLB debut and I thought, “Sure, why not?” After all, Vin Scully makes Dodger baseball easy to watch – I figured a few frames would be enough to see what this new Cuban “phenom” was all about. The Dodgers were facing San Diego at the Ravine which is typically an uneventful game (unless of course Carlos Quentin decides to go UFC on Zack Greinke’s collar bone).
Boy was I wrong. This was one NL West game that was far from uneventful. I watched in absolute awe as Puig proceeded to hit two home runs (driving in five runs) while single-handedly propelling the Dodgers to a 9-7 victory over the rival Padres. By the end of the night, the Dodgers rookie left the game with a .625 BA and a 2.125 OPS.
And the fans weren’t the only ones that did a double-take. Dodgers veteran Jerry Hairston commented after Puig’s performance:
I’ve played a long time, but I don’t think I’ve seen a guy have a first two games that he’s had. Arm strength, speed, power to all fields. This is fun to watch.
Twitter and the talking heads at ESPN immediately took notice. Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly (who has witnessed his share of great talent over the years) added:
It’s been pretty amazing,” said manager Don Mattingly. It’s really just like Spring Training. The stuff he was doing in spring is the same type stuff. Shooting balls the other way out of the ballpark, and then the long one to left.
Now I’m not going to debate whether Puig should be an All-Star, or whether Trout has more raw talent. That’s already being done and that’s not what this article is about. At this point, I really don’t care who can get down the line faster or has a better arm. Like Harper and Trout (and all the other phenoms before them) Puig is making every plate appearance a “must see” event.
There’s no doubt about it: Yasiel Puig is a special player. Not only can hit for the home run cycle, he can also throw a guy out at first base – from the WARNING TRACK. He won’t bat .427 all season long, but I guarantee that he’ll be fun to watch for years to come.
And whether you’re an Angels fan or a Dodgers fan – guys like Puig are good for the game of baseball.