Like the baseball version of a polar vortex, one of the newest Cincinnati Reds blew through town Wednesday.
Outfielder Yasiel Puig left temperatures of 40 or 50 degrees in Los Angeles to fly to Cincinnati. Puig’s whirlwind visit that included a tour of Great American Ball Park, a stop at a local pub across the street from the ballpark, meeting Cincinnati mayor John Cranley, a visit to the P&G MLB Cincinnati Reds Urban Youth Academy in the city’s Roselawn neighborhood and being interviewed on the Reds “Hot Stove League” radio show – all captured by social media.
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The only attraction he missed was a billboard welcoming him to the city.
He accomplished all of that while dealing with single-digit temperatures and a below-zero wind-chill factor – uncommon for a Cuba native who’s lived in Los Angeles for at least the past six years.
“It’s not that cold,” the 28-year-old Puig insisted, showing off his outfit – home jersey bearing uniform No. 66 over a long-sleeved maroon pullover shirt, black pants, maroon gym shoes and a red-and-gray Reds stocking cap atop his bearded face. “People say it’s cold, but it’ll be fine. It’s not going to be like that during the season. That’s the point.”
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Puig met with local media at the Youth Academy before answering questions from boys and girls who interrupted workouts to chat with the 6-foot-2, 240-pound outfielder, who was acquired on Dec. 21 from the Los Angeles Dodgers with outfielder Matt Kemp, left-handed pitcher Alex Wood and $7 million in cash for right-handed pitcher Homer Bailey and two minor-league players. Wednesday’s visit to Cincinnati was Puig’s first since the deal.
“I was happy and not happy,” he said about the deal. “I spent six years in Los Angeles. I loved the city. I loved the Dodgers, but this is a new city. I know this city is all about baseball. This is an amazing city.”
Making the deal sweeter for Puig was being reunited with Reds hitting coach Turner Ward, who filled the same role for Puig’s final three seasons with Los Angeles. Perhaps not coincidentally, Puig’s two best seasons were the last two — .263 and career highs of 28 home runs and 74 runs batted in over 152 games in 2017 and .267 with 23 homers and 63 RBIs over 125 games last season.
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It’s no wonder Puig spent as much time over the past couple of seasons kissing Ward on the cheek in the dugout after home runs as he did kissing his bat at the plate. Social media footage of both is easy to find.
“One of the reasons I’m so happy to be here is I’m with Turner Ward again,” Puig said. “We talk every day.
“To kiss Turner Ward, I need to hit,” he added. “If I don’t hit, I don’t kiss Turner Ward.”
Playing in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park could make every Puig at bat a possible Kiss Cam showing, but the right-handed batter isn’t planning to alter his approach.
“I’m a little excited, but I can’t come here looking to hit home runs,” he said. “I’m just going to play my game and try to hit line drives. If they go out of the park, better for me.”
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Perhaps the most intriguing question is where Puig and Kemp, who are primarily corner outfielders, fit into a lineup that already includes holdover corner outfielders Scott Schebler – also a former Dodger – and Jesse Winker while a potential everyday center fielder has yet to be identified after the Reds let Billy Hamilton go on Nov. 30
“I just want to play every day,” he said. “Whether it’s center fielder or right field doesn’t matter. I just want to be in the lineup every day.”
What he’s clear about is wanting to maintain his streak of postseason appearances. He’s currently 6-for-6 – six seasons, six playoffs.
“I don’t want to be finished in September,” he said.