Perhaps you missed the opportunity to watch ex-Cuban Yasiel Puig perform for the Lookouts at AT&T Field. If you had been there you would have a seen a big kid in a man's body. It was clear that, despite opening the 2013 season at Double-A Chattanooga, the happy-go-lucky Puig loved to play the game. The Dodgers knew he was special and promoted him directly to the Major League club in June where he (and Hanley Ramirez) sparked the comeback that resulted in Los Angeles winning the National League West Division.
Puig finished second in the race for NL Rookie of the Year behind Marlins' RHP Jose Fernandez.
After a brief return to Chattanooga to face up to a 97-mile-per-hour speeding ticket, he is back in Los Angeles where his latest appearance has been with a group of little leaguers. Little League back in Cuba was nothing like this.
But Puig is reminded of his youth ball days by the Northeast Los Angeles Little League, which plays its games at the Dodgers Dream Field overlooking the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
"I played Little League when I was 9, went through the system, and now I'm grateful that I'm able to do this for these kids," said Puig. "Maybe they'll be able to support me when I get old."
Three weeks ago, Puig made an unannounced and entirely unexpected visit to those fields, joined the Little Leaguers in their workout, and one of the kids mentioned to the Dodgers outfielder that he'd never been to Dodger Stadium.
Puig took care of that Monday. If you were driving in the area and saw the stadium lights on, that would be Puig in another play date with the NELA.
He pitched 40 minutes of batting practice to 50 players, aged 9-12. He took them on a tour of the Dodgers' stylish clubhouse, from the underground batting cages to the locker room, where the kids scrambled to test out the seats in front of the big leaguers' lockers.
He rounded them up and returned to the batting cage, where he had each of the Little Leaguers bat off a tee under his instruction. It was the kind of personalized clinic that just doesn't happen these days, reminiscent of the stories of Duke Snider playing stick ball with neighborhood kids on the streets of Brooklyn in an era long since passed.
"I told one of them that I would bring them to Dodger Stadium to practice on the field," said Puig. "I'm happy to be able to spend this time with them and see how much they enjoy being here. This is what makes me feel good."
Puig first encountered NELA when his cousin, Ramon Delgado, told him about the Little League that plays in nearby Elysian Park. Puig made good on his promise Monday, posing for pictures, handing out T-shirts and hats, then hosting the kids and their coaches to Dodger Dogs in the Stadium Club.
"We're excited that Puig is continuing the Dodgers' long legacy of community service," said Renata Simril, Dodgers senior vice president of external affairs. "Our mission is to inspire kids to play, live, learn and serve. We're happy to have him out energizing Southern California youth and particularly in our neighborhood. I'm sure these kids will be on cloud nine for weeks."
Puig has spent the first month of the offseason in Los Angeles. Along with attending as many NBA games as possible, he is scheduled for an appearance with Lakers star Pau Gasol on Tuesday at the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, which has had a long affiliation with the Dodgers. The pair will visit patients and sign autographs.
--- Portions from article on MLB.com
- Photo2 by Tim Evearitt