Saturday, June 8, 2013

Yasiel Puig: Something Like A Phenomenon

Has anybody had a better first week in pro sports recently than Yasiel Puig? The Dodgers' highly touted phenom has been on a tear this week unlike anything I've seen. A recap of his first five games.

Monday: 2 hits and a bullet assist from deep right field for the game-ending double play.
Tuesday: 2 home runs. The first to tie the game, the second to give the Dodgers more insurance.
Wednesday: 0-for-4. A reminder that he's human.
Thursday: Grand slam in the 8th inning to turn a 1-0 lead to a 5-0 cushion. On the first pitch!!
Friday: Game-tying home run in the 6th. Intentional walk in the 8th.

4 home runs, 10 runs batted in. A name on the lips of non-baseball fans. Can't script it any better. He'd be front and center on that old VH1 show "Best Week Ever"

I was at Dodger Stadium Friday and to see the Puig Phenomenon live was something to behold. We saw folks already selling bootleg Puig shirts on the drive in. There were fans with "Viva Puig" signs in the stadium. The atmosphere was ready to see another big moment and the team's latest phenom didn't disappoint.

When the Cuban sensation hit that 6th inning bomb, I was in the concession stands and as soon as I heard the roar of the crowd, I couldn't believe it. My friend Keith texted me right on cue - a few hours after he reminded me that he picked him up in our fantasy league.

Friday Night's Bomb was the latest chapter of the Yasiel Puig Story
It's as if this kid senses the moment and not only seizes it, but does it at exactly the right time. Every big play he makes is a momentum-shifter and you hate to pull away from his at-bat. How many rookies do you know get intentionally walked in their FIFTH GAME? The crowd booed and I was in shock. How much respect has he earned so far that it'd even be an option to take the bat out of his hands??

Puig's excitement is so real that in the 10th inning, me and all the fans were hoping the Braves would load the bases so he could come up with the chance to be the hero. Alas, the Dodgers would win on a wild pitch so he had to settle for just being another dose of clutch hitting/excitement.

He has a lot to still learn. He's anxious at the plate and has to let the game come to him. His fielding at times has been spotty because of that anxiety. But right now, he's going on adrenaline and feel to make the most of his opportunity in the majors. I'm appreciating every he can do at this point.

(The sideshow to Puig's theatrics was getting to see the latest Dodgers pitching gem in Hyun-Jin Ryu. He went deep into the 8th inning and I'm glad he's getting more comfortable in his stuff. He was poised, wasn't afraid to throw strikes and he's well deserving of his own hype. On the mound, he's carrying the team as much as Kershaw.)

Considering that the last two seasons have been stained with Frank and Jamie McCourt's messy divorce and no sniff of the playoffs, this is fresh excitement fans have been waiting for since 2008 when Manny Ramirez came. We all know how that joyride crashed and burned but it was a glorious ride when it lasted.

Not so glorious has been the five years since Mannywood arrived. Besides Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw's emergence, the team hasn't sniffed the playoffs in four years, just gotten over the stench of bad ownership and saw money gone to waste in players like Jason Schmidt, Andruw Jones and perhaps Josh Beckett. They've watched the Angels steal their thunder as the team to watch in Southern California.

As exciting as the new ownership is with Magic Johnson as the figurehead, the one thing that'll move the needle the most is great on-field play. Puig's not going to hit home runs every game and his eagerness will cause him to strikeout or take bad pitches. But as Dodgers fans - heck, as baseball fans - we have to enjoy the moment. It's unlike anything I've seen since Manny or from a Dodgers rookie since Hideo Nomo in 1995.

A 22-year-old helping to save the Dodgers' season one game at a time and while it seems like hyperbole, I saw for myself that it's warranted hype.

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