Puig leaves LA, warms to wintery new home with Reds
By Joe Kay
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — Yasiel Puig boarded a jet in Los Angeles, flew all night and arrived in his new home just before sunrise. The temperature was still falling toward zero, and the wind chill was enough to cause frostbite in a few minutes.
That first blast of cold as he left the plane was another reminder: You’re not in LA anymore, Yasiel.
The former Dodgers outfielder who was part of a seven-player deal with Cincinnati in December decided to explore his new town Wednesday. He did just about every Cincinnati thing that a visitor could do on a below-freezing day.
Puig looked for a place to live, visited Great American Ball Park , and spent time with children at the Reds’ baseball academy. He went to City Hall and met the mayor. One of the local chili parlors tweeted hello.
During his visit to the new clubhouse, Puig got a Reds home jersey with No. 66 and his name on the back. Also, a red-and-gray stocking cap that sure came in handy under the conditions, though he insisted that 20-below wind chill wasn’t intimidating.
“It’s not that cold,” he said in a tone that had less conviction than his words. “It’s all in your head. I’ll be fine. It’s not going to be like that in the season.”
Reds fans are hoping Puig and a cadre of newcomers can make this season one worth following, finally.
After four straight rebuilding seasons with at least 94 losses — and significant attendance drops — the Reds have overhauled their rotation and lineup in a series of trades giving them an entirely different look for at least one year.
The Reds got Puig, left-handed starter Alex Wood and outfielder Matt Kemp from the Dodgers in December . Puig and Kemp are free agents after this season, so Cincinnati could be just a one-year stand for them.
For Puig, it’s a chance to solidify his free agent resume in a smaller ballpark and a much smaller city that’s been waiting for a reason to be excited.
LA to Cincy? Dodger Dogs for three-way chili? How’s that going to work?
“I’ve been playing in a small city, a small country, almost all my life,” said Puig, who grew up in Cuba.
He hasn’t yet met most of his new teammates — that will happen in a few weeks in Goodyear, Arizona — but he’s part of a text chain with 10-15 players who stay in touch daily. The most familiar person on the team is batting coach Turner Ward, who left the Dodgers after last season to join manager David Bell’s staff.
Ward helped Puig significantly in LA, and the outfielder showed his appreciation by planting a kiss on his cheek after a home run. Puig also developed a habit of licking his bat when he feels he needs good luck. He plans to continue the smooching and showing his personality in his new town.
“I was born like that,” he said. “No matter where I play, no matter what’s the city, I do that.”
The Reds’ offseason makeover involves more than Puig and a new coaching staff. They also traded with the Nationals for starter Tanner Roark and with the Yankees for starter Sonny Gray, giving him an additional three years on his contract that added $30.5 million in guaranteed money from 2020-22.
It’s unclear how far they can rise in the tough NL Central, where they’ve been at the bottom for years. Puig’s arrival gives them a fresh face that fans already know from afar.
Puig has already had one memorable moment in Cincinnati. During a Dodgers visit in 2014, he went to the zoo and got a snake draped over his shoulders, leaving him with a look of dread that made for a memorable photo. Puig plans to visit the zoo again.
“But the snake thing — that’s not going to happen for myself,” he said.