LOS ANGELES -- Imagine some rocky field in the middle of Cuba on a muggy afternoon, a bunch of guys in worn-out cleats and colorful jerseys playing baseball with a few dozen fans in the stands.
Could Yasiel Puig have looked this good even then, in that humble backdrop? Now, he's playing against the best baseball players in the world -- certainly the highest-paid -- in a stadium with three decks and massive light banks, a clubhouse jammed with members of the media and their cameras and recorders.
And, no matter where you put him, he's still just a cocky kid with square shoulders, smiling eyes and scary bat speed.
"I think that's what's so infectious about him. He plays with such energy and it just seem like there's a joy in his game," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "I really think it's the way you're supposed to play. It's a kid's game, you know?"
Right now, it's The Kid's game. Puig has so dramatically lifted the Dodgers' spirits in just four games, playing the key parts in three of the wins, it's as if he has taken over this team -- if not this town -- in the span of half-a-week.
Baseball isn't really played at this pace, of course. Eventually, it's going to slow down. The adjustment period will come and it will either be painful or simply a momentary pause. Nobody has been able to skip it yet. Ted Williams had his weeks when he wasn't the greatest hitter on the planet. He had his weeks when he wasn't the greatest hitter in a 20-foot radius.
But, even when Puig hits the inevitable slump -- maybe it's when pitchers figure out he can't hit sliders away or good fastballs on his hands, who knows? -- he might have already changed this Dodgers season. Or, he might have just given everybody a reason to smile, and what's wrong with that?
Mattingly and Adrian Gonzalez were chatting on the bench when Puig came up with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. They looked at each other and both expressed the same thought: It has to be a grand slam, right? The reliever, Cory Gearrin, threw something in the middle of the plate and Puig banged it over the right-field fence.
It was raucous, it was wild, but it almost felt like the logical event at the moment. That's how high he had set the bar in his first few games.
Mattingly called it "fresh." Baseball needs "fresh" like long, grueling hikes need sips of cold water. When the Dodgers constructed this roster, they bought a lot of things: guys who have been consistently successful, experience, professionalism. They didn't have much fresh on the roster.
Zack Greinke has played on bad teams and playoff teams, been traded a couple of times, and signed a contract that would make bank executives blush. He's also seen the way young, dynamic talents can change a room and alter the chemistry on the field. Last August and September, he played with Mike Trout.
"We have a lot of veteran players, so sometimes it's nice to have a young guy come in, have that good mix," Greinke said. "But I'm not predicting the future, if it's going to continue to work out great, but so far it's been nice."