Can a month make an All-Star or is too-good-to-be-true Los Angeles Dodger rookie sensation Yasiel Puig just a special effects creation of Hollywood?
In a month, the power-hitting Puig has turned around what was a disastrous Dodger season, possibly saved a manager’s job, and created an uproar among players, sportswriters and fans on whether he should be named to the National League roster for the upcoming All-Star game.
How can you not be romantic about baseball?
All that has really been known about the 22-year-old Puig is that he defected from Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and that he has become the most famous exile from a Communist country since Mikhail Baryshnikov four decades ago.
A little over a year ago, Yasiel Puig arrived in Mexico. He has refused to talk about how he got there or if there is any truth to the rumors that he was smuggled into the country by drug dealers who wanted a cut of any baseball deal he got.
His life is a movie
In an interview while he was playing in the minors in Chattanooga, all Puig would say was that one day there would be a movie about it.
“Toda mi vida is una pelicula,” he said that day. My entire life is a movie.
But it now appears, from interviews with those close to Yasiel Puig and members of a Coast Guard cutter, that Puig’s story of how he came to play baseball in America is indeed like something out of Hollywood – attempt after attempt after attempt to defect, facing ostracism and punishment in Cuba when those attempts failed, and finally succeeding even in the face of death.
Since 2000, according to the Coast Guard some 200 Cubans have died trying to defect by boat from an island barely 90 miles away from Florida.
Tens of thousands more have been taken into custody by Coast Guard cutters and eventually returned to authorities in Cuba where their fate is unknown.
Yasiel Puig’s attempts to defect
The first time Puig tried to defect, according to those close to him who are not authorized to speak for the record, was in 2011 when the Cuban national team was playing in the World Port baseball tournament in Rotterdam.
Both Yasiel Puig and lefthanded pitcher Gerardo Concepcion tried to defect, but only Concepcion succeeded – signing $6 million deal to pitch foe the Chicago Cubs. Cuban officials banned Puig from playing on the national team.
Puig immediately tried to defect and failed several more times in 2011. Each time he was caught. Each time Cuban officials told him he would be kept off the national team, no matter his talent, and would never play baseball in America.
Then in April of 2012, with the Major League Baseball season barely underway, Yasiel Puig made his most serious attempt to defect to that time when he boarded a speed boat along with several friends and tried to make it to either the U.S. or Mexico.
That boat was intercepted by the Coast Guard cutter Vigilant to whose crew Puig stood out by his massive 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame. A Yahoo sports story suggests that Yasiel Puig may have been traveling with a personal entourage ready to auction him off to a Major League Baseball team. Puig himself made no secret of who he was.
“Somebody is going to take a chance on me,” Puig is quoted as having told a crew member, “and I’ll be rich someday. That someday will be pretty soon.”
That sounds like Puig, who is never lacking in confidence.
A Vigilant crewman now even claims to have the first baseball Yasiel Puig ever signed for an American fan.
But Puig was soon returned to Cuba, though remaining ever confident that he would eventually succeed in defecting, no matter how many times it took.
Of course, he succeeded, winding up in Mexico last year where the Dodgers signed him to a $42 million, seven-year contract. He tore up spring training this year, and the Dodgers are now being second-guessed by many for not starting him in the majors when the season began.
In his first month in the majors, Puig has only had one of the greatest beginnings in the game. What else do you expect from a player who was not going to be denied defecting.
“He told me a funny story about this,” says his agent Jaime Torres about Yasiel Puig’s numerous attempts to flee Cuba. “He had attempted to (defect) from one particular place.
“By the third time, the police officer (there) begged him to leave from another place because he was going to get him in trouble.”