The calls to Alex Vega started a couple weeks ago. Vega runs a garage that customizes cars in Miami, and he considers Yasiel Puig a loyal client. Puig wanted his advice on upgrading a more unconventional potential purchase: A helicopter.
"His plan is to buy one," Vega said in a telephone interview.
Puig has gained notoriety for his tardiness in the past. He joked with Vega about using the chopper to fly to Dodger Stadium to defeat the city's traffic. It's an amusing scenario, but it will have to remain a fantasy. The team has informed Puig a federal law prohibits him from landing any aircraft on the premises.
The Dodgers have researched the viability of helicopter travel for members of the ownership group and other players. The facility at Dodger Stadium lacks a landing pad. The act also would be illegal.
The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits aircraft activity near stadiums holding events for Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NCAA or NASCAR, an FAA official explained. The law does not ban activity near NBA arenas. Kobe Bryant has chartered helicopters to Lakers games in years past.
Puig has dropped hints about his helicopter aspirations. His Instagram account features pictures and videos of him in flight. But he does not appear to harbor serious thoughts about traveling to the ballpark in the air.
The Dodgers read a TMZ report about the helicopter on Thursday. Lon Rosen, the team's chief marketing officer, informed Puig he could not actually land the chopper at the ballpark. A day later, Puig joked with Rosen that he still intended to do so. Rosen repeated his message from the day before.
"It's now turning into a comedy routine," Rosen said.
Puig lacked interest in discussing the situation. He shook his head and told a Dodgers staffer, acting as an interpreter, that he did not want to answer questions about it. Seated nearby, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez quipped that Puig could pick him up on his way to the park.
Puig took the field Friday after undergoing oral surgery earlier this week to remove his wisdom teeth. He sat out Thursday's first full-squad workout. But Puig reported early to camp in a physical condition that has impressed his employers. The Dodgers asked Puig to reduce his muscle mass this off-season, part of the team's plan to keep him on the field more often.
In another encouraging sign, Puig has reconnected with Tim Bravo, a former English-language instructor who chaperoned him during the first six weeks of his career. Bravo has been working with Puig again this spring in Phoenix.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has yet to levy any punishment toward Puig for his alleged role in an incident at a Miami bar in November. Manfred has also placed Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes and New York Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman under investigation for off-field incidents during the off-season.
Earlier this week, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts insisted the situation was not a distraction. The fanciful flight of this helicopter saga likely won't be either — even if Puig may be serious about buying one.
Vega runs The Auto Firm, a garage that has become an off-season destination for athletes looking to refurbish their rides. He has customized cars for players including Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and former Dodger Juan Uribe.
Vega spoke to The Times from Port St. Lucie, Fla., where he and Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes transformed the first week of spring training into an auto expo. Cespedes drove a new car to camp for five days in a row, with a sixth surprise planned for Saturday. His daily arrival has become a spectacle for the New York tabloids.
Vega said he met Puig a few years ago and he did work on a few of his cars. As he pondered which type of helicopter to purchase, Puig asked Vega if he could remodel the interior and decorate the exterior with a design that could include the owner's name. The purpose was practical, Vega said.
"He said there's too much traffic down there," Vega said, laughing over the phone.
On this front, there is little argument. But the law impedes any pipe dreams of pregame flight.
The supervision of Puig proved tricky for Don Mattingly, Roberts' predecessor in the managerial chair. Roberts pledged to offer Puig a fresh start. He asked him to be himself. The Dodgers can live with the result.
"Every player is different," Roberts said. "Every player has a different personality. Every player has a different skill set. We want Yasiel to be Yasiel. With that, as far as his personality, his love for the game, his energy — that's something he brings that's a positive for the team."