Is there more to Puig’s reckless driving arrest?

The announcement that Yasiel Puig was arrested for reckless driving, speeding and failure to produce insurance is beyond disappointing. We don’t know the details and it could be that a young man, with few English skills in the middle of Tennessee in a sporty new car is a huge target in that region of the country. He was arrested, and that’s a concern. How often does a person get arrested for speeding and reckless driving?

Yasiel Puig has the baseball stuff down. It's the fitting in with society that he needs to work on. (Photo credit - Jon SooHoo)

Yasiel Puig has the baseball stuff down. It’s the fitting in with society that he needs to work on. (Photo credit – Jon SooHoo)

My experience is that there are times it happens when the police have borderline evidence of an intoxicated person, so they go with the lesser charge, but that’s pure speculation on my part. I’m not saying Puig was under the influence and there isn’t any evidence of that. Reckless driving is what we know, and that’s a serious enough offense. Was the situation serious enough that he had to be arrested? That’s tough to determine without witnessing what happened. Certainly a lot of questions are raised but law enforcement felt that it was necessary.

When Yasiel Puig signed a $42 million contract last year, one of the first major purchases he made was a sports car. I don’t remember the make and model, though I believe it was a sporty Mercedes Benz. Whatever it was, I do recall thinking “I hope this kid can handle that car and is able to stay out of trouble with it.”

It’s not like he had any experience driving around in Cuba. In fact, I believe it’s likely that he’d never been behind the wheel of a car before coming to the United States. When you hand a 22 year old kid millions of dollars after he’d been living on a limited stipend in a controlled socialist state, you’re opening up someone to a whole new world of living. Some can handle it, others not so much. For that reason, Eddie Oropeza was hired by the Dodgers to assist Puig with his transition to not only baseball in the United States, but to his immersion into a capitalist society as well. That’s not an easy adjustment to make. The whole situation for a kid like Puig could be just too overwhelming.

My wife met a wonderful Cuban friend through night classes she has attended as she becomes court certified in Spanish/English interpretation. For reasons of privacy, I’ll call her friend “Antonia.” She is now very close to our family, and she’s a Cuban immigrant that arrived in the United States about 15 years ago. Antonia stayed in our home a few years ago due to her lengthy commute to attend classes as her residence was several hundred miles away. I was curious about life in Cuba and how her adjustment to arriving in the U.S. went. Her answers were quite open and surprising to me as she admitted to being a card carrying communist party member that was completely anti-American just a few months prior to her move to the U.S. through a marriage to a U.S. citizen.

I asked her what it was like when she arrived in the States and what it was that she found most overwhelming to her. Her answer surprised me. “The supermarkets,” she answered. “I couldn’t believe the abundance of things. I stood in the aisle and looked at all these canned soups. There were so many different brands, the colors, all the choices to be made and it was more than I ever imagined. It was emotional. I stood there in awe and almost cried. I couldn’t believe that there was so much to choose from. Different flavors, tastes, ingredients. It was amazing. I just stood there with my mouth open. I never imagined that these options could ever exist in the world. There was too much, my brain couldn’t absorb so much.”

I bring up that story because I think many of us simply can’t fathom what Yasiel Puig has been through in the past few years. He’s experiencing a sensory overload of life in my opinion. Not only are there the changes in culture but throw in the middle of that the treacherous trek he made to escape Cuba via raft, arrive in Mexico and face life threatening situations there. Then you drop a kid in this culture with an over-abundance of money and choices when he was used to a regimented structure that didn’t afford those liberties, it might be too much. There could be adjustment problems. It’s only natural for him to want to buy the whole candy store when it’s evident that he can afford it.

I’m not sure if Eddie Oropeza continues to follow Puig around and show him the ropes with regard to culture and the do’s and don’ts in U.S. culture, but I hope he’s still there trying to guide this kid. Many may think it’s disconcerting to think that the Dodgers need to hire a full-time babysitter to keep Puig in line. At some point, he’ll need to be cut loose and a trust factor needs to be developed. I question if Puig is even near that point yet.

We saw a polite kid that was approachable and extremely kind to all fans in spring training. We saw a kid that made some on field mistakes but also appeared to learn from them. We saw a humble and hungry ball player that improved and improved from the first day of the exhibition season. I think it’s safe to say that as a ball player he is arriving. As an adult adjusting to his new environment, there may be a maturity level that he hasn’t approached yet. One thing for sure though, we like him. We’re rooting for him. His story is a “fell-good” story that needs to have a happy ending.

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12 Responses to “Is there more to Puig’s reckless driving arrest?”

  1. KSparkuhl says:

    Great piece, Evan! Good perspective as well. I’m certain that we’re all pulling for Yasiel to adjust to his new country, to become just as great a person in life as he is a ballplayer. Heaven knows we could use more decent people in society; more role models to show kids how to act. Unfortunately, this is not a good start. How he responds to this adversity will shape his future years.

    • lindav says:

      Very good article, Evan. As a 40-year insurance agent, I deal with clients with DUI’s and Reckless driving. In all states, they are major violations. In Nevada, you automatically go to jail on the first DUI offense until bailed out and then jail time is automatic on the 2nd office. Reckless driving is just as major (or more so) than a DUI – the difference is that if the first offense is “changed” to reckless and you are caught “again” for DUI, it is really the first and no real jail time. In the insurance arena, reckless is worse than a DUI so the client has the choice of lower insurance and taking the DUI or changing the DUI to a reckless and paying more for insurance. I put it to them this way–if you think you are going to drink and drive in the next 5 years, take the reckless.

  2. bigbluebird says:

    Evan, this is a very timely issue that no one is discussing in the media. I really don’t know how this could happen. Cuban players especially need help when they are first tossed into US society with the resulting culture shock. It shows that the Dodgers don’t have much experience with high profile Cuban players.

    The Reds had a team of people to accompany Aroldis Chapman to show him the ropes, teach him English, the culture, etc. I can’t believe that Puig was allowed to drive as I am sure he wasn’t driving a car in Cuba. According to the Chattanooga newspaper, he as driving 97 mph in a 50 zone early on Sunday morning about 2 blocks from the police station. And without insurance? This is a failure of the Dodgers to supervise him and make sure he is learning how things work. If you look at it in terms of your $40 plus million investment this is crazy and you are allowing him to drive in a country where he doesn’t speak the language . . . . AND DOESN’T HAVE INSURANCE!! WHAT??!! Puig carries the responsibility for doing something stupid that any kid his age would potentially do but this is a complete failure of the Dodgers to understand the situation and protect their player.

    Apparently, this isn’t going to affect his play on the field. Yesterday he went 2 for 3 with a home run and an RBI single in the first game of a double header. This was his first game back. http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2013/apr/29/yasiel-puig-returns-lineup-leads-lookouts-victory/

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      “Apparently, this isn’t going to affect his play on the field.”

      I actually believe that it will. I have witnessed first-hand the Dodgers handing down disciplinary action to its minor leaguers for various “violations of team policy” on the Advanced-A and Low-A levels. (It usually involves not allowing the player to play in games for a significant period of time, although they are permitted to work out with the team; however, they are not allowed in the dugout during the games).

      Also, as Evan noted here (and I noted on the forum), not all DUI’s are enforced and are sometimes treated as reckless driving cases, thus creating some suspicion that perhaps he may have been DUI but not to the level of intoxication.

      My guess is that we will hear little or nothing about this incident going forward, as the Dodgers will undoubtedly keep this in-house. The obvious exception will be the results of Puig’s court case which, of course, the media will go viral over.

  3. bigbluebird says:

    I was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek with my comment. Puig is responsible for his actions and this will affect him but the Dodgers are the ones that look like rookies at this. I know that McCourt showed no effort at the international signings over the past few years but they look a lot worse than Puig at this point. They haven’t really had a well-paid international minor league prospect for a while much less a Cuban who needs help learning the ropes. I deal with kids here in Mexico about his age who go to the states to play and don’t speak English well but don’t have the contract that Puig has and have little or no supervision. They do silly and reckless things anyway and they don’t have nearly the resources that Puig has, sending most of the money home.

    This is a powder keg ready to explode if you give a kid lots of money, little understanding of the society, and then plop him into Tennessee obviously unsupervised out buying a car without insurance and driving recklessly in the early morning 2 blocks from a police station?? That is incredible that they would be so careless with a very important prospect. Hopefully this is a wake-up call for the Dodgers organization to put a little more effort into this. I have a feeling that Puig is going to become relevant to the major league level a lot quicker than people think.

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      “I have a feeling that Puig is going to become relevant to the major league level a lot quicker than people think.”

      I have felt this all along (well, since spring training – as Harold will attest) that this will occur no later than the July 31 trade deadline and perhaps sooner if there is an injury in the Dodger outfield.

      I am sticking with my earlier prediction that Ethier will be packaged in a deal that includes Joc Pederson and possibly even Zach Lee or Chris Reed for Chase Headley – especially if Matt Magill proves successful, as I think he will.

  4. KenS says:

    Nice read. And Ron, I agree with your point about Ethier. I have always perceived there is a less-than-perfect relationship between Ethier and Mattingly. If the Dodgers continue to get beat up at home, especially by other NL West teams, the Dodgers may have to choose between one or the other come August.
    Ken-isportsweb

  5. Evan Bladh says:

    A few responses.
    @ Linda, I had no idea that in the insurance industry there are times when the “reckless driving” conviction is more favorable than a DUI.

    @BigBlue Bird: Thx for the update providing more details on Puig’s incident. 97 MPH in a 50 zone…yeah, I’d say that warrants a reckless driving charge. As far as the insurance thing is concerned. The charge was that he had no “proof” of insurance on him. Something that is often cleared up in court when he presents a proof of an existing policy, which you would think that he has. Agents are usually involved in these types of purchases athletes make and I have to believe that he has automobile insurance on his $100,000 car. Interesting to note that he was the designated driver for another player on the team, who also was his interpretor. That must have been an interesting conversation, an intoxicated interpretor certainly wouldn’t help Puig I would think.

    @ Ron: I agree, we won’t hear anything from the Dodgers and all will be from media coverage of his future court room appearance(s).

    @BBB again: The Dodgers do have Eddie Oropeza on the payroll to aid Puig’s transistion to life in the U.S., but he can’t be with him 24/7 and I wonder if they are reconsidering the whole setup and possibly thinking of putting someone with him completely full-time, similar to the Josh Hamilton situation.

    @ Ron and Ken: On Ethier’s situation. Interesting observations. Of course, if Puig continues to mess up, the probability of dealing Ethier away will diminish.

    • Evan Bladh says:

      sorry for all the typos. Pounding this thing out on my I-Phone in a moving car is a bit problematic.

    • bigbluebird says:

      Sounds like there were some mitigating circumstances here. I hadn’t heard about the other player in the car and that he was the designated driver. No reason to drive close to 100 mph but at least that sounds a little better that he was bringing another player home(?)

  6. KSparkuhl says:

    Can we just skip to the good part and do the Chase Headley thing now? I’d be all about that… especially with everything the Padres did to screw up our rotation. They at least owe us the consideration… as if they actually have a chance.

    Oh, and if I have to endure one more chapter of the Ted Lilly comeback story, my doctor might have to prescribe me a stronger dose!

  7. lepeetomain says:

    I love that Puig is a Dodger. I have been listening to and attending Dodger games since 1959. I’m very concerned that a young man (Puig) of his age, and his “Stallion” reputation, should be turned loose with a speedy car in a foreign country with little or no english speaking (or reading skills). This doesn’t make him unintelligent, but given the circumstances, puts him at a disadvantage. The articles written have the vehicle he was driving approaching 100 mph. Intoxicated or not, he puts the public and himself at risk.
    A small community service slap on the wrist I believe is a disservice to him, and those around him.
    My son was pitching at the minor leave level when he and two of his teammates were hit by a drunk driver. My son died from his injuries. The other two young men were injured (one severely) and have never again played baseball.
    We all know about Nick Adenhart. There are many others.
    I hope to see Puig play for the Dodgers for many years to come. Please, someone, help guide this young man so he may shine as a baseball player and young man. We don’t need to see him behind bars like the man who killed my son. Please be clear folks, this was not intended to be an ad for no drinking and driving. Driving at those speeds are lethal enough without the alcohol. Each state has its own laws. He should be explained what the consequences might be.

    Lepeetomain

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