This article was originally published in Washington Jewish Week.
My 9-year old grandson Matan is a very serious baseball fan. I have to study the box scores carefully during the season just to keep up with him, but still he knows everything I know and more.
So it was not surprising last summer that we both took note of Yasiel Puig, a 22-year old rookie from Cuba who hit the big leagues like a bolt of lightning. When he played his first game for the Dodgers on June 3, the team was in last place in its division. Yet he quickly turned things around, getting 44 hits in his first month (including seven home runs), more than anyone since Joe DiMaggio had 48 hits in the first month of his rookie year, back in 1936.
Veteran announcer Vince Scully called Puig “the Wild Horse” because of the passion he brought to every aspect of the game, from his powerful bat to his aggressive base running to his ability to throw out runners from deep right-field without hitting the cutoff man. Manager Don Mattingly credited Puig’s infectious energy with igniting a hot streak that catapulted the Dodgers into first place in their division.
It’s hard to imagine that just a little more than a year before Puig’s astonishing arrival to the big leagues, he and a dozen others attempting to escape from Cuba in a small boat were picked by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and held onboard for two weeks, after which they were returned to the island. It wasn’t the first time Puig had tried to escape, and it wouldn’t be the last. Less than two months later, he escaped again, this time to Mexico, at which point the Dodgers — to the disbelief of many in the baseball world — offered him a seven-year, $42 million contract. It turned out to be a steal.