Where the wild Puigs are

Yasiel Puig NLCS Los Angeles Times Dodgers

“This is America, so I can show you my nipples if I want!”

The drifter lifted his shirt and started walking towards me with a doped-up look in his eyes. It was hard to see him under the dim yellow lights and the empty gray concrete of the boardwalk, but those were definitely nipples.

By this point in the night Venice had been completely turned over to the homeless and the crazies, and there was no telling what kind of trouble you might find on a fairly short walk.

The man had a point though. He could show me his nipples if he wanted. But what if that wasn’t what I wanted? I’d finally found parking and was beginning the march back to my beachside apartment, so I was in no mood to be hassled in my fatigued state. All I wanted was a nice bed to crash in after a long day.

“Very nice,” I replied, and walked past him. I didn’t feel like engaging this vagabond in an argument about the true meaning of liberty. Besides, his goldfish attention span would no doubt carry him on to his next thought before I could say anything meaningful.

I had a fleeting concern he would try and rob me, but I had almost nothing of any real value anyway. My pockets were lined with a few dollar bills and some maxed out credit cards. But the Dodgers tickets – he could turn those for a quick profit if he had the brains to realize it.

Venice sign at night

The threat quickly subsided as his friend shouted he had “nicer nipples” and the two began to bicker as I scurried into the building.

I tapped the breast pocket of my blazer to feel for the tickets. They were safe.

After all, this was my L.A. highlight. Sure the city had sun, beach, nightlife, and entertainment. But L.A.-St. Louis, NLCS, game three, under the lights at Dodger Stadium? Baseball games like that don’t come along too often.

I’d gambled – hard – on buying the tickets in the first place. With one night in L.A. to make the game, and neither the Dodgers or Cardinals having advanced, buying the tickets was reckless, but with great risk comes great reward.

I took the rickety old elevator up to my floor and started down the light blue hallway. The apartment complex had a very beachy vibe, even in the dead of night. At the end of the hall another tenant stood on the fire escape, smoking a joint while the palm fronds swayed in the background. He shot me a hesitant glance, but I looked back at him and smiled, as if to say, “Relax pal. I know I’m in a suit, but I’m no NARC.” I wasn’t about to rain on his parade. It’s hard to enough to find peace in the chaos of this city. If this man found his paradise, why not leave him be?

I got back up to the trendy, exposed brick room and took my dress shoes off. The light hummed to life in the kitchen, and I grabbed a beer out of the fridge. Yelling and rattling went on three floors below, the drifters finding new ways to amuse themselves in my absence.

As I’d been informed earlier, this was America. The wild west. This is where dreams came to flourish or die. I was in the middle of mine, but the dark, chaotic souls of the Venice boardwalk had rattled me. The sudden, random exposure to a man’s nipples jarred me, but also set my mind straight. Maybe this drifter knew something I didn’t? Caution is no antidote for entropy. We’re all susceptible to the chaos, so we might as well keep living on the edge. Maybe flashing our nipples at strangers in the dead of night will become the new normal? I guess we’ll just have to deal with it.

I sipped my beer and leafed through the sports section of the Los Angeles Times to ease my mind. This was it. Do or die for the Dodgers. Go down 3-0, or stay in this thing. Making maters worse for L.A., it was Staff Ace versus Portly Korean. Something special would have to happen, or tomorrow would be a very sad night in L.A.

***

It was a warm afternoon and the sun beat down on the powder blue stadium. Fans milled about the parking lot and the entrances as the towering palm trees lining the stadium loomed overhead. The sun lit up the San Gabriel mountains in the distance and Los Angeles was buzzing for baseball. The fans moved in throngs through gift shops and up the ramps to their seats. There was no sense of fear, or uneasiness, about the dire circumstances of today’s game.

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My blonde-haired companion bounded through the gate ahead of me in her new Dodger blue T-shirt. These were the times when even the most tepid baseball fans catch the fever.

The concourses were like a time warp. That beautiful powder blue colour – it was everywhere – lined the walls, and the hand-painted murals showed up every so often to remind you of the great history ever since this Brooklyn transplant found it’s new home. The scent of Dodger Dogs wafted through the air, and the jovial fans wandered about looking for condiments and beer.

The game started in the late afternoon with all the pomp and circumstance we’ve come to expect from playoff baseball. Military honours, drawn out anthems, and unnecessary explosions of Cardinal-red fireworks (an odd choice?).

The first few innings moved smoothly, with that pace usually reserved for pitcher’s duels. Each team with a baserunner in the first, but promptly going three-up, three-down over the next two innings.

Night began to fall over Chavez Ravine, the powder blue shifted a shade and the mountains began disappearing into the darkness.

St. Louis started the fourth the same way, but L.A. would not follow suit. Adrian Gonzalez doubled home a run, then moved over to third on a groundout. Anything past the infield would bring him home. Then with two outs in the fourth, Adrian on third, and in steps Yasiel Puig.

The Cuban sensation had dazzled ever since his mid-season call-up. He played a wild and exuberant brand of baseball that meshed nicely with the wild and exuberant town he played in – a style my drifter friend would be proud of.

He clashed severely with baseball’s old guard. His cockiness, and reckless play drew the ire of just about everyone, but it also won baseball games, so it was tough to argue with the results.

The Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainright, now with a run charged to him tried to refocus. Two fastballs, and a curve, left the count two balls to one. Puig dug in and Wainright came back with another fastball.

With a violent swing, the ball cracked and the 93 mile an hour sinker was suddenly headed hard and fast towards the darkness behind right field. Puig’s arms went up immediately – the bat flipping wildly into the background – and he strutted out of the box like royalty.

In this moment he was the king of L.A., and he would put an exclamation point on a pivotal run if he wanted to.

“The code” would not approve, but King Puig lives by no code but his own. His game is raw and wild. A code is just dated rules for a culture of scared and stoic baseball players, and Puig was scared of nothing that balmy night in Los Angeles.

The ball died as it neared the fence, and a home run would not materialize, so Puig sprang to life. Raw power exploded from the sinew in his muscular legs. The slow, cocky trot around first, turned into an aggressive burst around second, and an arrival at third, standing up, arms raised, and blowing a kiss to the sky.

Shrugging off a lifetime repression, this was Puig’s time, and he would play his way – like it was the last game on Earth.

It was an odd sight. The young, enigmatic, mohawked Cuban showing the Americans how to play the game with the wild and free energy it deserves to be played with.

It was sure to ruffle feathers and consternate the baseball community, but in reality it was just a sheer expression of joy, and joy is not vilified in L.A.

At the night’s end, a Dodgers win complete, Puig had a simple response to his play:

“We’re in the playoffs. Playoffs, playoffs.”

A simple “fuck you” to baseball’s old guard. Puig will play how Puig plays. He will throw his arms up. He will flip bats.

He will do this, because this is the playoffs, and this is America – and this is how you win the west.

If only he’d flashed his nipples.

 

Editor’s note: The Dodgers would go on to lose the NLCS.