I found the reaction to Yasiel Puig to be quite polarizing during my first day here in Miami. There were legitimate Marlins fans decked out in their Marlins gear that were standing and cheering for Puig whenever his named was announced. An entire family sitting in front of me were at the edge of their seats for every pitch he received or every ball hit his way.
There were also the hecklers that were giving Puig the business in Spanish. They made fun of his strikeouts at the plate and yelled that Fernandez was the true Cuban star in the game. To all this, Puig was completely unresponsive. Yes, I think he could hear what was being said to him. There’s no doubt he heard the cheers too.
I can only imagine how both sides will react to Ramona Shelburne’s ESPN article that both Puig and Oakland’s Yoennis Cespedes have met with Fidel Castro’s son, Dr. Tony Castro, and discussed coordinating their return to Cuba to play for the Cuban national team in future events such as the World Baseball Classic or perhaps even the Olympics.
This news is huge and could potentially turn things ugly towards Puig in Miami. It isn’t as controversial as the Ozzie Guillen comments from last year, but the sentiment and reaction may be the same for the many exiled Cuban-Americans in this region.
I won’t go into the politics of the region, but it is safe to say that the Cuban community in Miami loathes the Castro regime and anything to do with them. Any association with them will be not well received. The anger, hurt, pain and venom they feel runs extremely deep. Puig, who was for the most part received with cheers on Monday night from a Cuban fan base that is knowledgeable and thirsty for a Cuban star, may have to turn completely to last night’s winning pitcher Jose Fernandez.
Puig was received as one of their own – that of a repressed athlete that simply wanted the freedom to play baseball in America. Seven or eight attempts to flee the island told them that. The news that he’s negotiating a return to represent that regime in future international baseball tournaments has to feel like a punch to the gut for many of them.
I’m not sure how this will play out or if Shelburne’s short article will even reach the Cuban-American community in Miami, but if it does, there could be some fireworks in South Florida for the next few days.