Matt Kamlet, CBSLA.com
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — When the Dodgers took the field on April 1, 2013, long forgotten was the torment, anguish, and hardship of the previous team under former ownership.
The historic ball club, beloved by scores of passionate fans, no longer carried with it the burden of financial misuse and desperation.
The new ownership brought with them more than an explosion of financial resourcing. There was energy, excitement, and fewer fans stood by the club’s primordial words, “Wait ‘Til Next Year!”
But something happened — or, rather, nothing happened.
Surviving April with an unexpected 13-13 record, the club that featured more starting pitchers than they knew what to do with during Spring Training, suddenly found half the talent in their rotation on the disabled list.
A reoccurring elbow condition shut Chad Billingsley down for the year, and former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke went down with a broken left collarbone after a crude mound-charge by Carlos Quentin in San Diego.
The month of May was opened with an eight-game losing streak, and to make matters even worse, the Dodgers’ stacked outfield of All-Stars slumped, declined, and ultimately limped off the field with injuries.
Carl Crawford, who was one of the few Dodgers to produce in April, consistently struggled with a hamstring, limiting his ability to explode out of the box and show off that monumental speed.
Matt Kemp, recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, was absent at the plate, hitting just a pair of home runs before going down with a hamstring strain on April 29.
What was once the envy of ball clubs in terms of an A-List outfield, was depleted.
The team, which many predicted would make an uncomplicated run at a World Series appearance, plummeted to last place in the National League West.
However, in the spirit of the game, opportunity found a way to present itself amongst discouragement.
Yasiel Puig, since being called up on June 3, has provided an unprecedented spark — one that had thus far seemed to evade the high-payroll Dodgers through the first half of the season — and has re-established a sense of excitement in the stands that fans haven’t felt since Opening Day.
Through his first eight games in the majors, Puig managed to bat .500 with a .938 slugging percentage, connecting on four home runs, and bringing in 10 RBIs.
His first week earned him National League Player of the Week honors, and Puig scarcely played a game without writing himself into the record books in some aspect.
Puig became just the second player in baseball’s modern era to hit four homers in his first five games. His 10 RBIs tied the record for the most through a player’s first five career games.
Furthermore, he became the first Dodger since at least 1900 to debut with 13 hits in his first seven career games, according to ESPN.
In a town like Los Angeles, celebrity status is never far away, and Puig’s merchandise has begun selling at a record-setting pace in the team’s stores.
How is he handling it?
Puig sat down with Sports Central’s Gary Miller on Monday, and, through teammate Luis Cruz’ interpretation, talked about his phenomenal debut.
“I feel very happy that my first week in the big leagues, I’ve been able to be the player of the week,” Puig said through Cruz.
The honor came after Puig hit two of his home runs in one game, and a grand slam in another, while displaying a remarkable arm on defense.
Cruz spoke on Puig’s comfort level with the club, despite only being in the big leagues for just over a week.
“I remember in Spring Training, everybody knew he was going to be here soon,” Cruz told Miller. “So, you feel very comfortable. He’s very comfortable.”
Puig, whom the Dodgers signed to a seven-year, $42 million contract in June of 2012, also expressed that he likes Los Angeles, and that he has an appreciation for the support from fans.
“I like it a lot. And I like the fans, as they cheer my name,” Puig said through Cruz. “I want to have the fans come cheer for us. We’re going to give a hundred percent every time we play, and we’re going to try to win, every game. I feel very happy that all the fans are cheering for me.”
Puig, who was ultimately signed out of Mexico, successfully defected from Cuba, after having failed in his first attempt. He declined to speak about either experience.
The 22-year-old suggested that, surpassing his own performance on the field through his first week, which seemed to catch the eye of the entire sports world, he felt the biggest thrill when the team won games.
“Through all that, the thing that makes me the most happy was winning four games and being able to contribute,” Puig said. “I just want to win games.”
As happy as Puig is to finally be in the majors, the Dodgers and their fans are just has happy, if not more so, to have a player on the field that runs out ground balls, throws with conviction, and swings with authority.
Through Puig, both players and fans are obtaining some things that a high payroll, in itself, doesn’t necessarily provide.
Promise and pride.
And to think, he is already drawing comparisons to Bo Jackson from his fellow big leaguers, as the enthralling story that is Yasiel Puig is hardly beyond the first paragraph.