As Yasiel Puig speeds down reckless path, Dodgers hold their breath
A white Mercedes allegedly traveling 110 mph has flattened the Dodgers with the organization’s most frightening, frustrating truth.
The richest team in baseball cannot buy the safety, security or even the simple undivided attention of its most popular player.
Yasiel Puig continues to careen toward calamity and there doesn’t seem to be anything anybody can, or will, do about it.
For the second time this year, Puig has been charged with reckless driving, after his arrest Saturday on an Everglades-choked stretch of South Florida highway known as Alligator Alley. Puig was allegedly traveling 110 mph in a 70-mph zone, a startling pace even on a flat stretch of road built for speed.
Puig has now been clocked at least 40 mph over the speed limit twice this year. He was allegedly going 97 mph in a 50-mph zone in Chattanooga, Tenn., in April, resulting in charges that were eventually dismissed when he agreed to perform community service. The arrests fit into a pattern of reckless living exhibited by the 23-year-old outfielder — both on the field and off — since he defected from Cuba and signed a $42-million contract two summers ago.
“He plays hard, he eats hard, he drives hard, he does everything hard,” said Tim Bravo, a high school teacher who was employed by the Dodgers last summer to serve as Puig’s full-time companion and mentor.
In response, the Dodgers simply swallow hard, if only because they’re not sure what else they can do.
They lecture him, but he doesn’t listen. They benched him once, but he came off that bench to hit a tiebreaking home run. They can’t trade him; he’s their most exciting player and the potential new face of their franchise. And they won’t monitor him full time because they think, well, at some point, doesn’t he have to grow up on his own?
The Dodgers thus reacted to Saturday’s news with a sigh, a silent prayer of thanks that nobody got hurt, and a public statement in which the harshest words were “very disappointed.” Then they resumed doing the one consistent thing they have done since Puig first donned a Dodger uniform: holding their breath.
“I talked to him on the phone and I told him, we want you to have a fulfilling life, but you’ve got to understand that boundaries exist,” General Manager Ned Colletti said Sunday. “Like it or not, a lot of young people look up to him, and I asked him, what kind of message are you sending them with this?”
The message should be more clear to the Dodgers themselves. If something doesn’t change, their future cornerstone is literally an accident waiting to happen.
It’s easy to look up and find yourself speeding on a flat and empty highway, but, seriously, one must really be trying hard to reach 110 mph. One must also be feeling particularly bulletproof not to at least consider the possibility a police car might be waiting over the horizon. Considering the situation, Puig was lucky his joy ride resulted only in a handcuffing, a few hours in a jail cell, and the payment of a $500 bond. It could have been much worse. His father, mother and sister were reportedly passengers in the car, so it could have been much, much worse.
“I worry about him all the time,” Bravo said Sunday. “Sometimes he needs to be redirected. Sometimes, somebody really needs to be firm with him.”
Bravo, whom Puig affectionately calls Teacher, was that force in his life last summer before leaving the team after the All-Star break. Bravo won’t discuss his reason for leaving, but it is believed to involve a contractual dispute. The Dodgers never replaced him, and Puig increasingly seemed lost without him.
Puig batted just .214 in the season’s final month. Then, after playing well in the National League division series win against the Atlanta Braves, he collapsed in the NL Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, batting just .227 with one extra base hit while committing three fielding blunders in the Cardinals’ clinching Game 6 victory.
When the season ended, the Dodgers were thrilled Puig initially spent much of his time in Los Angeles working with youth groups and attending Lakers games. But with every trip to his Miami home, Puig travels further from their control and the worries increase.
It is no coincidence that during one of those trips, Puig stopped to have dinner with Bravo in his Albuquerque home. Bravo was one of the few members of the organization unafraid to stand up to Puig, and the kid seemed to appreciate the effort.
“Every day this winter when I wake up, I check the computer to make sure nothing is happening with Yasiel,” said Bravo. “He’s still so young, I’m still so concerned for him.”
Colletti said he wasn’t inclined to give Puig another babysitter, saying, “At some point, everyone is responsible for their own actions. He’s not some 16-year-old kid, we can’t have someone on his arm all the time. It’s up to him to figure it out like we all have to figure it out.”
So breaths will remain held, the Dodgers silently rooting that in the 110-mph race of his life, Yasiel Puig will grow up before he blows up.
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