Thursday, April 17, 2014

Credit where credit is due.

Read this. And this.  

No, no. Go on. I'll wait. 

I'll see you in a bit. 

You're back? Great. Let's talk.

I'm guilty of calling Puig a punk, a baby, and a liability. I say the same things about Bryce Harper. I love watching both of them play, but I don't think I'd date either of them...or let them date my friends. I'd have a beer with Puig before Harper, though. That would certainly be a night to remember.

However, in the end, who cares what I think of two guys I don't know? That goes for all of us. What we should care about in Puig's story is the fact his story exists in the first place. This is bigger than baseball and bigger than any of us. Being held captive in a seedy motel in Mexico does not excuse Puig from not running the bases, showing up on time, or driving the speed limit now that he's a Major League Baseball player. It does, however, indict a politics so difficult to comprehend that one can begin to see these behaviors as expressions of relief or even a kind of reacquaintance with humanity. 

Think about this for a moment. 

Most of us, while perhaps not gifted with every privilege, have probably never been approached by anyone offering us sanctuary from the very places we call home. We've likely never been faced with the choice of abandoning our families, friends, and all we've known just for a chance to live freely. The idea is so foreign to us that even reading about it when it happens to someone else conjures only fractured images of what that transaction might look like. Presumably, the images are informed by a mix of Hollywood movies, news media messages, written accounts, and our own individual imaginations. The meetings between Despaigne and Pacheco and then Puig and Despaigne, in my own mind, happened in open air bars with dingy floors and dingier glasses, where dogs and men languish side by side in the stifling Cuban heat. Sweat trickled down the men's brows as they spoke in low tones, passersby may or may not have suspected foul play. Those who did, well, might not be eager to be involved for their own safety. That's only my interpretation. Maybe yours is different, but I'll bet it's just as menacing. 

As dark as any of this sounds, it is nothing compared to the resultant journey, one that, while vividly described by both Katz and Eden, can never be wholly and completely conveyed through words. The thoughts, fears, anticipation, and confusion that must have consumed these travelers' brain cells will always, no matter how many times the tale is told, belong only and completely to those who were there. Making it through that level of treachery just to be hired to do what he's been training to do all his life is a process we will never understand. Job hunting is agonizing in its own right, but I don't think any of us will face machetes, death threats, and cramped boats to get the job we've always wanted. Maybe the slow trots around the bases are a public middle finger to the entities who made his journey that much harder, the only way he can retaliate against the obviously dangerous and far-reaching enemy who promised to help him and ultimately caused him and his companions additional stress. Maybe the bat flips are just his body's reaction to the relief and joy that must come with finally being here and finally being able to live a dream thatregardless of where you're fromso very few people ever get to live. Maybe the fast cars and late nights are because he's just flashy, flamboyant, utterly pleased with himself. Maybe he's just a kid in the world's biggest candy store.

Katz described Puig's awe at things we take for granted—"The Three Stooges," Denny's steak and eggs, and driving a car. Furthermore, "He had to learn not just English but the basics of modern consumerism: to tip, to use an ATM, to read labels, to pump gas." When was the last time you were enamored, enraptured, confounded, or confused by these things? Without getting into the deep and mind numbing theory of cultural adaptation, Americans tend to believe anyone who moves to the US needs to assimilate. People expected Puig to become as American as the pastime he loves and the apple pie that accompanies it in the infamous saying. While there ideally should be a healthy give-and-take when people enter another cultural space, the pressure on Puig is to be so grateful to the US and Major League Baseball that he does things "our" way. That's quite the thing to ask of a guy who, just two years ago, had his limbs and appendages threatened by a rusty weapon in a damp and sordid Mexican motel. He might be a little bit of a show off (okay, a lot of one...), but the problem is deeper than that. Instead of various people with varying degrees of power over him telling him he should be grateful for the opportunity and shut up, maybe it would help him grow if someone bothered to ask him if his "showboating" is just his way of showing gratitude. Few seem to have taken the time to get to know who Puig really is (not that he makes it easy by dodging interviews more often than not); what looks like hot dogging to outsiders might be what he thinks he should do so fans, players, and other interested parties know he's thankful to be here. What if someone said, "Yasiel, what do you think of when someone tells you to be thankful? How do you do that?" I wonder what he might say. The kid is relearning how to act and how to carry himself; this new worlddespite being his oysteris probably still a damned scary place.

Let's try that...maybe when the death threats die down. For now, let him have his time to heal. If he refuses an interview, maybe he's still uncomfortable with the language or the cultural conventions. Maybe he's afraid the wrong person will see him or he'll say the wrong thing. Maybe he's still broken. We can't possibly know how deep the wounds from his journey go. He may have arrived in the US with all his fingers and toes, both arms and both legs, and his eyeballs, internal organs, and the hairs on his head intact, but we can never know how much of his heart and soul they took without ever making a single cut.

Puig has publicly declared he will not comment on the story, a move I wholeheartedly support. In a town and in a modern sporting landscape where no one lives privately, he deserves this one piece of his identity. Because he survived it, he has earned the right to shut down on the topic. Even as the details have been recounted in a public forum, Yasiel Puig's defection story still remains entirely his own. He did not inform the articles himself, and he has no obligation to do so. In a short career filled with bad decisions, this one is thus far his smartest. It shows there is hope for maturity, that though he may be a punk right now, he shows signs he can "grow up." In fact, living through what was described in the articles means he's probably more grown up than we will ever be. He just shows it differently. He'll find the balance. He found his way here, didn't he?

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