Puig Is Our Friend
By Christopher Schlueter
For the past couple of years, I was increasingly curious about the Cincinnati Reds’ interest in Yasiel Puig. I was reluctant to believe that the notoriously cautious Reds would take a chance on such a polarizing player. Puig rightfully earned a reputation in Los Angeles as undisciplined and unpredictable for his theatrical antics. However, Puig’s herculean outfield throws, body sacrificing catches and unique combination of speed and power legitimized comparisons to both Roberto Clemente and Bo Jackson. Vin Scully’s perfectly tabbed Puig as the “Wild Horse”.
As the rumors of a potential Puig trade to the Reds gathered momentum in December, I changed my opinion of Puig and hoped he would become a Red. I watched Puig send the Dodgers to the World Series in heroic fashion on a clutch game 7 NLCS home run. In the World Series, Puig broke a Dodgers’ record with the most postseason games played in franchise history (surprised me too). Puig matured into a reliable playoff force capable of shining under the brightest lights on the biggest stage. That means something to Cincinnati fans, see the Bengals on Monday Night Football and first round playoff games.
Cincinnati is hungry for a winner. Cincinnati is equally hungry to find a player to fall in love with (and one who loves them back). Puig has genuinely demonstrated a willingness to gain the acceptance of a Reds’ fan base by extending himself in a uniquely personal way. Puig regularly appears in social media posts wearing a Reds hat and dresses up his family in Reds’ gear. Puig visited Cincinnati in the dead of winter during the polar vortex to meet with fans and learn more about his new city. Puig is capitalizing on the opportunity of connecting with a city eager to usher in a new fan favorite.
Puig has naturally endeared himself to Dodgers and Reds fans alike by not taking himself too seriously and being himself. Puig’s antics are reminiscent of Johnny Bench’s singing appearances on Hee Haw in the 1970s. Puig’s graciousness conjures memories of Tony Perez, a fellow Cuban born product, revered for his leadership, friendship, sense of humor and clutch hitting. Lastly, Puig plays with reckless abandon and hustle. Puig’s desire and enthusiasm are infectious and contribute to winning teams. No sabermetric or empirical analysis is capable of quantifying the value Pete Rose brought to the Big Red Machine. Similarly, Puig’s playing style brings value that cannot be adequately appreciated on a stat sheet.
I’m looking forward to seeing Puig’s tongue-wagging, bat-licking and batter-box shimmies for a long time at Great American Ballpark. He is one of us. Puig is our friend.