In Los Angeles, a town filled with stars, Yasiel Puig looked like he would become one of the biggest in June of 2013. The Cuban rookie, whom the Dodgers signed to a seven-year, $42-million deal in 2012, spent his first 30 games tearing major league pitching to shreds as he hit .420/.449/.706 with a 1.155 OPS. After completing the season with a .319 average and 19 homers, he finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Even then, as he seemed primed for stardom, there were issues. He was late for batting practice. He was lax on the bases and in the field. So much so, the Dodgers had a meeting about it just after the 2014 season started. In 2015, he only played 79 games because of injuries. This season, he appeared in 81 before being sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Aug. 2.
Puig was placed on revocable waivers by the Dodgers on Aug. 28. In Oklahoma City, Puig spoke with ESPN.com's Marly Rivera in Spanish and covered everything from Puig's sudden stardom to his being sent to the minors to whether he had regrets about how he's handled himself.
You had sudden stardom in L.A. What was the hardest part of handing that?
Puig: In that city, with all the fans, you go to restaurants to eat, and everyone wants to take pictures with you. That's something that I was not used to in my country or in any of the other places I played, but little by little I adjusted to it.
You signed a 7-year contract worth $42 million in 2012. How did that affect you?
I just came here to play baseball, and I was surprised that I signed for that amount. For me, money is not important, I just wanted to play baseball here in this country since I haven't been able to play in my country in the last couple of years.
Does money change people?
Yes, money changes people, but not me.
What went wrong?
I got too distracted from my job and did not pay attention to the things that I needed to be paying attention to in order to be able to continue being a star and shine in my job. I had the [misfortune] of falling into bad times, and now I have to keep working to get out of those bad times and return to being the star that I was in 2013.
What was your first reaction when the Dodgers told you they were sending you to the minor leagues at the start of August?
I had no reaction. I knew it could happen because I had spent many years doing whatever I wanted to do. It was my fate, so now I can come back stronger with the Dodgers or with any other team that God is setting up for me in the future. I've seen what it's like in Triple-A, and I don't want to [be back] in Triple-A during my career, so I have to work my hardest and do the right things so I can stay in the place that I belong.
Why did you do whatever you wanted?
There are things that we are not used to doing in our countries and we find it a little difficult to do things at a 100 percent. We are not understood. We have to adapt to them. There should be better communication for the adaptation between [players from] the two countries, between the two personalities.
When you keep doing things wrong, people get tired. I even got tired myself. [The Dodgers] got tired and had no choice but to send me to Triple-A. No damage is done. I would rather they had traded me than sent me to Triple-A, but that wasn't an option.
And here I am working with the guys who have welcomed me so well and I thank them. I hope to get out of here soon to [go] wherever the destiny that God is preparing for me is.
What did they tell you they expected to happen after they sent you down?
I wasn't told anything. But I know what I have to do to return to the big leagues and be the person that was in 2013. I am here in Triple-A giving my best in order to be better, and I am very thankful to my teammates and manager and coaches in Triple-A. They have helped me a lot. That's why I am performing better on the field and behaving better with my teammates.
Leonys Martín talked to me about how difficult it was to adapt to all the routines and rules in MLB because it is so different from Cuba. "In Cuba we don't have a culture of being a professional ballplayer," Martin said. "In Cuba is like playing amateur ball. It's completely different. Us Cubans, we need to change in order to learn to be more professional." Do you feel the same?
I agree with him on some things but not on others. We can be professionals, but in order to be a professional at work or in a sport there should not be so many rules either. You just have to do your job and let people have fun. They have wanted to change so many things about me that I feel so "off."
Whether you are in Cuba or in the United States, the rules are the same. If you're not training, you don't respect your coaches, whether you're an amateur or a professional, you'll have the problems that I'm having right now.
Does it hurt to feel "off"?
It does not hurt so much but, I like to play aggressive baseball, play baseball happy. Then I can give that energy that I have to my teammates so everyone can have fun in the clubhouse because it's a long season, wherever you are.
In MLB there are 162, and in Triple-A there are 140-odd games, and we cannot have long faces every single day. We must try to have fun with each other and do things that some people don't like. That's the fun of the game. That's why fans come: to see people having fun on the field, to see them being aggressive on the field with no disrespect to other players. We need to have fun and that's what I like. That's why people go to see me.
Why did it work in 2013, and did not in 2014-15?
When you're hitting, everything works. When you're not hitting, nothing works. That's one of those situations. If you can hit, you can do whatever you want, if you can't hit, you go to Triple-A.
Who has been the person who has given you the best advice since you were sent down?
One person -- we've only seen each other in spring training and we've played against each other during the season series -- is Albert Pujols. He called me to give me a lot of advice and tell me a lot of things that I have to do on the field now that I'm in Triple-A, both on the field and to be a better person. I am very grateful for his words. I would have never thought he would call me because we don't have the kind of relationship I have with other teammates. Thanks to him, I'm doing what I'm doing and thanks to him, I want to improve as well.
What was Pujols' advice?
You have to work hard every day, you have to respect your coaches in order to be able to go back to where you were. We all go through these hard times if we don't pay attention. It is not about how many times you fall down but about how many times you get up. Thank God he put him on my way and I will give my very best on the field so he can be proud of saying those words to me.
You raised some questions with Snapchat posts in your first days in OKC. Why were you so active on social media given your circumstances? What sort of backlash did you get from the Dodgers organization?
It could have been an issue for the Dodgers or for any other team who could have been watching me, but I can't hide from my reality. I can't hide being popular or being famous. So many people chase you. So many people follow you.
I just went out to have fun with my new teammates -- just hanging out. Not because we lost or anything, but because I was so happy about the way I was welcomed just two days after arriving in Triple-A, knowing how, in the big leagues, I supposedly was so ignorant and I did not respect my teammates, whatever happened. They approached me, they asked me to go and join them. Let's sit and talk and dance and listen to music. I felt at home, like I was welcome. That's when I did what I did. I was happy being with them, as I had not been a while. I got on Snapchat. Something I don't think is wrong, but that's life.
I have to admit that it was wrong because I could have screwed my teammates with my actions, with the many followers that I have and all the gossips out there. But I had a good time with them. I am very grateful to them, and I want to succeed for them too. So, no more Snapchat for me in the clubhouse or anything. I have to take care of me and my teammates as well.
Has it being humbling?
It is something that has taught me humility, and I am very grateful. I do not know what the future will hold in the next few hours. I don't know where I will go. I don't know my fate. God only knows my destiny and I am here to fulfill it. He gave me many opportunities, the way [the Dodgers] did, and I put myself in this situation.
If you had Yasiel Puig in front of you, what advice would you give him?
I would give him the same advice I would be asking for right now. What my teammates have done [for me] here. I would sit with him face-to-face and then tell him the things that he has been doing wrong, the things he should do better to be a better teammate and stay in the big leagues -- all things that were never done with him. Sit with him face-to-face, instead of talking behind his back.
I would give him the following advice: Tell him to go to the field early every day, get to the cage early, have a daily routine to the point that you feel yourself that you are doing the right thing. You cannot care about what the world thinks about you.
The Dodgers are in first place in the NL West. What has it been like watching that from afar and not being part of it?
It does not feel good. But I'm happy that they are there in first place in the division. We have been there three years in a row. Whether I am there or not, I believe they can be in first place. I'm sure they can be in first place. They don't need Puig, they don't need other players who are not playing right now due to injuries or not, they are still in first place.
Whether Puig is in Triple-A, or whoever is out, not to specify names, they are still fighting, they are still moving ahead as a team and they are in first place, and that's baseball. If I want to be there to enjoy being in first place, I have to do the right things here. If I get traded to another team, I have to do things right on the other team and help lead that team and my new teammates to win the division.
Do you expect to be called up when the rosters expand on Sept. 1?
That I do not know. I am here at Triple-A so far. I keep hitting. I'm behaving. I'm doing the work I have to do. What I did wrong before, I have been doing better the last two or three weeks that I've been here. [Being called up] does not depend on me. All I can do is try to improve what I did wrong: the things that got me sent me here. The rest does not depend on me, that's [a decision for] the GM, the president.
Do you expect to be with the Dodgers in 2017? Or is it time to turn the page for both of you and move on?
As I said and as you just said, I have no control over that. I can play for any team. I came here to play baseball. I am thankful that [the Dodgers] signed me and for being in that city. I don't think there is another person that I know of besides Derek Jeter who played for only one team.
I'm wearing blue now. Tomorrow I could be wearing red, green or wearing any other color, as long as I am playing baseball. I played for my team in Cuba, and now I am here. Whether it's with the Dodgers with 60,000 people [watching], as long as it's not Oklahoma in Triple-A, or any other Triple-A, I can play for any of the other 29 [teams].
How are you striking the balance between being yourself and doing things right?
That balance is easy ... Well it's a little difficult, but it's what I am doing here in Triple-A. The manager asks me to arrive early, to go to the cage every day to do my routine, and then he lets me be to play baseball. That's all I ask. I do have to respect them. I have to arrive early because when I don't do that, I am disrespecting them. And I apologize for that, for the many times I did that, even to my manager [Don] Mattingly and now with Dave Roberts.
I will comply with arriving early but with the rest you have to let me be Yasiel Puig. Or give me advice on how you want me to play, but don't take away the abilities that I have. Otherwise, why would I play?