Boisterous celebrations, lighthearted trash talk and screaming -- lots of screaming: The inner sanctum of Yasiel Puig, baseball's tongue-wagging, coach-smooching oracle of joy, is exactly what you'd expect.
2:30 p.m.: Entering the House of Puig
Standing outside a Spanish-style home in Avondale, Arizona, a cutoff throw from Reds spring training HQ, I ring a doorbell, which sets off a series of blood-curdling screams inside. The front door cracks ajar. It's Yasiel Puig.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" he asks.
Well, I tell him, I'm here for the Puig Party, an almost-daily soiree hosted by one of the most colorful characters in baseball. The Reds' prized offseason addition was set to host me in Los Angeles earlier this year before a trade sent him, along with fellow Dodgers Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer, to Cincinnati. Ring a bell?
"Oh, yeah. Come in," Puig says. "I'm killing my cousin in FIFA right now."
2:45 p.m.: Rookie orientation
Dios mio! I'm on a living room couch with Farmer, a regular at the House of Puig, who assesses the three-ring circus around us: "You just never know who's gonna show up."
Among those on hand today: Puig's mother, Maritza; his girlfriend, Andrea; their boys, Danny, 2, and Damian, 1; Puig's cousin Ramon; Tim Bravo, whose shiny head has donned many hats, including Dodgers director of cultural assimilation and just plain "teacher," as Yasiel calls him; and Turner Ward, the Dodgers-turned-Reds hitting coach and Puig's "kissing buddy," as the two are notable for their celebratory dugout smooches after Puig's dingers.
"Life is better with friends and family," the 28-year-old Puig says.
Farmer adds that his life is better with Puig in it: "He was my favorite part of the trade. He pretty much brought the spirit that he had with the Dodgers over ..." Crap, I can hardly hear Farmer over Puig's incessant shouting.
"He's always yelling," Farmer confirms. Puig explains: "I'm the same guy -- I like to yell in the game, and I like to yell in my house."
Puig's gatherings have two chief ingredients: 1. games, from Jenga to backyard frisbee, and 2. loud trash talk from our host, who continually flashes the brashness that has been on display since his scintillating debut with the Dodgers in 2013 following a harrowing escape from his native Cuba.
Here's Puig on Ramon: "He doesn't like to shower -- nasty." Bravo: "He's the first ugly guy I met in United States." And me: "You look like a kid, you know that?"
That might be why little Danny corrals me for playtime, which entails the smashing of his toy trucks on the rug. Danny doesn't speak English or Spanish yet. "He speak 'Minion,'" Puig says, "his preferred movie."
Mostly, Danny shouts Minion. "He crazy, just like me," says Daddy, whose doting has its limits.
"I never change diapers," he says. "It's too much pee, too much No. 2. I don't even like to clean myself, but I have to clean myself if I want to hang out, you know?"
3:15 p.m.: Game time
After Puig phones in pizza and sushi deliveries ("My name is Yasiel. Have a good day, my man. God bless America."), it's game time. First up: Watch Ya Mouth, a game in which you stuff a contraption in your mouth and speak a phrase that teammates must decipher. We break into hyena-like laughter when he attempts phrases such as "very fresh berries" with a mouthful of plastic.
Puig says his PG brand of fun is by design: "If we play here, we don't need to go to the casino or go to clubs and drink," he says. Besides, the dude who celebrated the 2018 National League West title with not one but three beers in hand doesn't even like beer. "That don't have good taste -- and I lose my six-pack," he says. "I only drink water and whiskey."
His guys crack up. "How do you put water and whiskey together?" Bravo asks. "Because of whiskey, you need to drink water," Puig explains. "Hydrate, my man!"
3:30 p.m.: The main event
"You wanna lose, my friend?" Puig inquires as we gather around the dining room table for his go-to game: poker. Normally, it's a $100 buy-in, but I don't have their skills, wallet or stomach, so, "I put you in," Yasiel says.
All my chips vanish in -- no joke -- three minutes. It turns out Yasiel Puig is the Yasiel Puig of poker: all-in, all the time.
"I bet with no looking [at the cards], and I'm still winning," he says. "I'm the best."
I'm the worst, but my spirits are buoyed when Puig, beloved in L.A. for his philanthropy, tells me the buy-ins are donations to his Wild Horse foundation, which aims to provide aid to underprivileged children. "You donate 100 bucks, you're gonna help a lot of kids," he says. "The more people I help, the better I feel inside and on the field."
The game continues without me, and Puig is every bit the tongue-wagging, bat-flipping maniac we've come to know. "The things I do on the field -- licking the bat, tongue out -- I see the people love that stuff," he says. "That is coming from the heart. ... Our sport [is] fun. We don't appreciate it."
Puig says that, thus far, Wild Horse has been encouraged to run free with the Reds, which has him feeling confident that he can turn around a franchise coming off four consecutive seasons of 90 or more losses. "We going for the division championship," he says. "I have been six years straight with the Dodgers, and this is not going to be my first year out of the playoff."
After back-to-back World Series appearances and a strong 2018 postseason that saw him hit huge homers in Game 7 of the NLCS and Game 4 of the World Series, Puig suggests he's even ready to take on a leadership role in Cincy -- a job that he feels wasn't on offer in L.A. "This season, we're going to see who is the leader, who is bringing the good energy to the game," he says. "Some of my old teammates and coaches said that I'm too loud, but that loud is bringing you to the playoffs for six years. Now, I can bring my new team to the playoff [by being] loud, giving good energy. We're going to see who is at home in September or keep going in October."
It's the first of several times Puig will defend his playing style while insinuating that he felt stifled and underappreciated by his previous club. "Dodgers can try without Puig and see what happens," he continues. "Is Dodgers going to the playoff? If not --." He mimics placing a phone call and whimpers: "'Oh, I need Puig back!'"
4:20 p.m.: Chowing down
Ding-dong. It's the delivery guy.
"You want to come inside, my man?" Puig asks.
"I'm good," the guy says, backing away from the spectacle.
Over lunch, Andrea tells me, "The Yasiel you see outside is the same one here at home. Very charismatic, outgoing, funny." That's cool, but I'm looking for dirt, I tell her. "He doesn't put the clothes in the hamper. He likes to pass gas in front of people. He watches soap operas ..." Come again? "That's the only way I cry -- the telenovelas and my shows," Puig says before admitting that he cries a lot, actually -- like just a couple of days ago while watching "Rudy" and darn near every time he catches "America's Got Talent." "One lady, she was the only survivor of a plane crash," he says. "She performed so well, go to the final. That made me cry."
5 p.m.: Alone time
Puig's visitors bounce. Most of them, anyway. "You're still here?" he kids with me. We sit on his billiards table and chat.
"When my agents told me I'm traded, I'm excited, my family is excited," Puig says before admitting to frustration after years of rumors. "If you are going to trade me, tell me -- don't start talking in the media. Trade me. F--- it. That's the job. That's your job. You talking for the last three or four years [about a trade]. Stop talking, and do your thing."
It sure sounds like Puig was ready to move on from the Dodgers, I tell him. "Yeah," he replies. "The only thing I miss is the city and all the friends and great fans. [The Reds] are going to give me the opportunity to do what I love to do: have fun with the game and bring passion and energy to my new teammates, city and fans. That's the reason why I left my family in Cuba to come to United States. That's the reason the trade is not too hard on my heart."
When I ask Puig about the knocks on him, ranging from tardiness to over-aggressive play, that might have spawned the trade, he says: "I'm a little older now." Still, he promises that his live-wire act will continue in Cincy, where he's on a one-year deal, and advises his teammates to roll with it: "My thing [shouldn't] bother you," he says. "But I can't play quiet. That's not me."
I can't help but marvel at Puig's command of English. He says he would've passed on such an interview just a few years ago, when his English was on par with my version of his native tongue (Quieres zapatos?), but these days, language is a speed bump more than a barrier for Puig, and now he's on a roll ...
Puig on his first visit with the Reds back in January: "It's super cold -- minus-2 [degrees] -- but, hey, I still enjoy the city, love the team, love all my teammates. And [red] is my favorite color -- for the clothes, for your lips, for my car. I love red."
On his failure to reach his potential in Chavez Ravine and the prospect of racking up his first 30-home-run season in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park: "You haven't seen my best. I'm not coming from a friendly hitting ballpark, but I still hit a little bit. I don't know how many home runs and doubles I'm going to have, but I know it's going to be better than last year."
And on the three dates he circled on his calendar: "Tax Day, April 15, 16 and 17 [when the Reds visit the Dodgers]. We're going to have a lot of exciting moments in Los Angeles. I hope it's going to be full -- 60,000 people watching me play, my first time back, giving love to the fans. I can't wait for that moment."
5:30 p.m.: Seventh-inning stretch
Three hours into my rookie outing on Puig's turf, I'm out of gas. "Thank god," he kids. But he's already stacking chips in preparation for tonight's poker game. As I bid adios, he pauses. "Hey, you pay me $100," Puig says. "Come on, it's for charity."
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