Viva Puig! On baseball’s rebel and how a fast track to the majors was the best move for everybody involved.

AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez

When I was in the fourth grade, I was seen as some sort of a class clown; as someone who would later graduate high school with honors and a squeaky clean record, this was an inauspicious start.

I wasn’t acting out in order to get attention or to seem cool to my classmates, I was simply doing things that would help curtail my boredom. While I never did anything out of line (serious missteps required a trip to the principal’s office) I can understand why my teacher would give me “yellow cards” that forced me to describe my actions and why I shouldn’t do those things, although I think she was out of line when she confiscated my CD player during recess because I had a disc with WWE theme songs on it.

Most of my elementary school life unfolded this way because I never felt challenged by any of the material put in front of me. That was the case until one day when my math teacher pulled me aside after class and suggested that I should start doing the assignments a few pages ahead of where the rest of the class was in the textbook. I swiftly finished his bonus homework assignment and soon enough, he had me delving into algebra a full year before most students are even introduced to the basic principles of the subject. The satisfaction I got from completing something that actually made me think was exactly the kind of jolt I needed to make me stop falling asleep in class (that said, I could never keep my head off the desk in my AP English class in 11th grade, but I did pass the AP test).

Two days ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers called up a young player that has been stuck with the label of “immature”, somewhat of a class clown of the lockerroom that never seemed to fully dedicate himself while playing in the minor leagues. With both Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp dealing with injuries, the Dodgers were forced to call upon stud prospect Yasiel Puig, a 22-year old Cuban outfielder, who had been deemed by many close to the game as unfit for the big show at this stage of his career.

Puig defected from Cuba in 2012 and, shorty after establishing his residency in Mexico to become an official MLB free agent, signed a seven year deal with the Dodgers worth $42 million. Puig was on fire in his first season playing ball in the states and hit over .500 in spring training this year, but despite some rumors that he’d begin the year with the Dodgers, Puig started this season in Double-A. Even as he continued to hit the ball extremely well no matter where he was, Puig was seen as a big-headed kid who hadn’t put everything together in terms of the mental composure it takes to be a professional athlete, and there were also concerns about his baseball acumen in the field.

But now that Puig has given the Dodgers, a team that has greatly underachieved in the first 50+ games of the season and has dealt with questions about Don Mattingly’s job security for the past month, a shot in the arm, the concerns about Puig not being mature enough for the show have ceased.

Puig has led off in both of his first two major league games, and he’s already been more valuable to the Dodgers in two games (0.4 WAR) than Andre Either has been in 55 games this season (0.2 WAR). Puig went 2-for-4 in his major league debut on Monday night, capping off the game with an absolutely unbelievable rocket throw from the warning track in right field to double up the runner at first base to end the game.

As if that laser beam wasn’t enough reason to fall for this guy’s potential, his encore performance last night should be enough to get you on the bandwagon. In his second game in the majors, Puig hit the game tying and game clinching homers to give the Dodgers their second straight win, no small feat for this struggling ballclub. Puig finished 3-for-5 with two homers, a double and five RBIs, giving him an unbelievable start to his big league career.

The Dodgers have desperately needed something to go right for them over the past month to help kickstart a potential turnaround, and in Puig they may have found that lightning rod. It’s very easy for a baseball team to start mailing in games once things start to go badly (just ask the 2011 Red Sox), and the Dodgers were getting close to being too far in the hole for this season to be salvaged.

As an added bonus, now that Puig is being challenged, facing off against pitchers that can actually keep him guessing, playing in games that actually matter and playing alongside veterans and stars that can keep him in line and in the moment, there’s a strong chance that the off-the-field issues start to become less of a factor.

Puig truly could have been struggling to grasp what it meant to be a professional when he was suiting up for the Chattanooga Lookouts, but it turns out that a great solution to immaturity is an accelerated promotion to algebra.

And now a player that was thought to be an unknown integer has been figured out as a difference maker.

(This column was originally written for But The Game Is On. It is republished here for my personal archives. If you wish to share this article, please use this link.)

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