The last two months of Yasiel Puig's life have been difficult to comprehend for his fans, for his teammates and for the people who took a leap of faith to sign him.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was sitting in his office Nov. 18, looking out over the Dodger Stadium field, when he saw something he couldn't remember seeing before: Kids playing baseball, surrounding a major-league player on the pitcher's mound.
“There's 50 Little Leaguers on the field, and it's (Puig's) idea and there he is,” Colletti said. “He's setting this great example, and he's doing something that I don't see many big-league players do in the community. I can't remember the last time I looked out my window and saw 50 Little Leaguers out there in December and a baseball player is the ringleader of the group.”
Then Dec. 28, Puig provided another spectacle when he was arrested for reckless driving for the second time in eight months. This time, he was alleged to be driving 110 mph on a 70-mph highway in south Florida with three passengers in the car, including his mother.
“Mr. Puig showed willful and a total disregard for the safety of his mother and the other two passengers and any vehicles on the roadway,” read the arrest report.
For those who view Puig as a hero, it was tough to read. The Highway Patrol officer's dashboard video, with audio of a wailing passenger and Puig asking for leniency, was tough to watch.
The Dodgers' reaction could be classified as another example of sports-franchise-as-family. No one within the organization is drawing the comparison outright, but Puig has been treated as the prodigal son, his sins acknowledged and eager to be forgiven.
“We don't condone the behavior,” Colletti said. “We do a lot of different things we can do to teach, to teach and mentor and show the responsibility that's necessary.”
The Dodgers assigned a personal mentor to Puig for much of his first big-league season — first former major-leaguer Eddie Oropesa, then Tim Bravo, a longtime friend of scouting director Logan White. Those reins were loosened toward the end of the season when Bravo returned to his full-time job as a teacher, but Colletti said Wednesday that the Dodgers still “have people that are with (Puig) a lot.”
To further shield Puig from chaos, the team intentionally limited its marketing efforts. This year, he will have a bobblehead day and a Fathead day in the first two months of the regular season.
Can Puig deal with the attention well enough to make headlines for all the right reasons? Is that asking too much?
The Dodgers' management, which invested $42 million in Puig over seven years in 2012 despite relatively little information about him, certainly hope not.
“If this young man had become a great baseball player at USC, UCLA, Fullerton, any place around here,” Colletti said, “and had grown up in L.A. and was 22 years old and suddenly took baseball by storm, that young person would probably have some adapting to do as well.”
Puig has said little about his life away from the field, including his transition to American culture. A rough comparison might be applied to another young Dodgers outfielder.
Joc Pederson spent the winter playing in the Venezuelan League. The 21-year-old outfield prospect from Palo Alto was among the league's better hitters, but success on a baseball field could only help him so much.
“That just puts you in a whole different environment out there. The fans will get you,” he said. “It definitely throws you in something you're not comfortable with.”
Pederson's perspective has nothing to say for the responsibility that comes with a contract the size of Puig's, an unceasing stream of media attention, or the emotional roller coaster of escaping communist Cuba and reuniting with family in the United States.
To at least two of his teammates, Puig's character is not an issue. Pederson, who began last season with Puig at Double-A Chattanooga, said “I'll play by his side anytime.”
Pitcher Zach Lee, who also spent 2013 in Chattanooga, elaborated.
“It's almost hard not to like him,” Lee said of Puig. “He's such a fun-loving guy. He pretty much interacts with everyone you put him in front of.”
Puig's silence since his latest arrest might not last long.
Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said in a radio interview Thursday that Puig “feels as bad (about his arrest) as I've ever heard a player feel about something.” Kasten added that Puig has stopped driving and will let his cousin be his chauffeur, and that the team is talking to Puig about making a public apology.
At this point, it would be naive for Puig to think his playing can do all the talking for him. Consider it another lesson to be learned.
“Sometimes his off-the-field stuff overshadows the guy he is,” Lee said. “You feel a little bad for him sometimes because of the media, because of the stuff that he does to himself.”