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?
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.