I'd like to tell you about Yasiel Puig. After all, we live in the same city and often go to work in the same place. More often than not, however, he looks straight through me and smirks, which doesn't reveal much about a young man. My own kids do that. The barista at Starbucks does that. I assume they are all reasonable people nonetheless.
I've seen Puig be very kind to children and their parents, the people who mill along the warning track during batting practice at Dodger Stadium, and the uniformed employees charged with keeping reporters off the grass, a directive they take quite seriously and Puig no doubt supports.
I've seen him stop and smile and pose for pictures when other players don't have the time or patience. He laughs a lot with his teammates, who seem to enjoy his style and energy, both of which have been judged to be over the top by big-league standards. That doesn't mean Puig is wrong or the standards are wrong or the two can't peacefully co-exist one day. He's 22. He's hitting almost .400. His jersey is a top-seller. The Dodgers have hardly lost since he showed up.
That's a lot to gather up for a person, especially at his age, especially when he fought for so long and so hard to get here. And now he strikes me as nothing more than desperate to be good, to prove himself, to hit the big bully in the mouth before he himself gets hit. It's possible he sees a lot of enemies out there, even where there are none. If so, I'm guessing that hunch served him well over the past year or two.
On their way to being swept by the Dodgers and Puig (who was a tame 4 for 15 in the series), some Diamondbacks decided he plays with "arrogance," is well on his way to being "hated" in the league, and does "stupid things," as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. One sports network just reported that Puig tried to pick up girls using his interpreter and, frankly, given he doesn't speak the language, it was either that or while away his 20s practicing saying, "Nice to meet you." He just lost the Final Vote to Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, though in the process received more votes than anyone in the history of the Final Vote other than Freeman. He flips his bat, he glares at pitchers, he dismissively waves off fellow outfielders who come near his space, an area seemingly defined as anywhere he damn well pleases.
So maybe the backlash was coming, because at some point he was going to hit .242 for a week. Well, he's in that week. And now he's a punk for sneering at the guy who hit him in the face with a fastball a few weeks back and failing to recognize the guy who had a huge World Series moment when he – Puig – was 10 and living in a foreign country that probably didn't let him watch many World Series. And maybe we're just piling on here a little.
If this sounds like an apology for Puig, it's not. He'll learn his way or he won't. Over time, baseball will tamp where it sees fit. And didn't we just have a conversation like this about Bryce Harper?
He'll hit or he won't. He'll get along with his teammates or he won't. He'll conduct himself off the field in a manner that befits an adult, or he won't.
And none of us knows what those choices will be. He's free to make them and live with them.
What we do know is he plays the game at a pace that can make other players look bad, and he has the kinds of skills that don't come along very often, and he swings at most pitches, and he gets thrown out by 20 feet at least once a night, and he doesn't seem to give a crap what some stranger in a different-colored jersey thinks of any of that. The Hall of Fame is filled with those guys. So is Bob's Tow Service. There's a lot of in-between.
It looks like Yasiel Puig walked into his new life with his chin out and his fists balled. Afraid to be afraid. Afraid not to be. Wary, and maybe justified.
He'll be the emotionally reclusive athlete who complains no one ever took the time to know him, yet never took the time to say hello. Or he'll find the courage to look up and make eye contact and decide he doesn't have to make everything quite so hard.
That, too, will be his choice. And maybe we just ought to give him the time and space to make it. Hell, it worked with the barista.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
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• Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton go back-to-back as Angels rout Cubs