Unless you’ve spent significant time in St. Louis and, more specifically, at Washington University in the St. Louis suburbs, you’ve probably never heard of Mike Talanya’s Juke Box Restaurant. That’s a shame because Mike Talanya’s (T’s, as the locals call it) is a delightful dive filled with disco balls, red and blue Christmas lights creating a constant purple hue, and wall-to-wall-to-ceiling mirrors. Oh, and there’s also a karaoke platform most frequently attended by a handful locals, Wash. U. seniors, and Wash. U. med students.
I don’t expect any of you to have heard of T’s but I know for a fact one of the newest Cincinnati Reds has. My freshman year, after a Wednesday Dodgers-Cardinals game with an off-day Thursday, Yasiel Puig posted on Twitter looking for something to do. Wednesday nights are T’s nights for the Wash. U. undergraduate community, so some senior replied, inviting Yasiel along.
To everyone’s surprise, he came, and he brought teammate Hanley Ramirez for good measure.
For about half an hour, Yasiel and Hanley stood by the wall, nursing a drink, chatting with intrepid students, and taking selfies with anyone who asked. At some point, they must have realized that maybe a night of college students and karoake wasn’t exactly their vibe and disappeared to country bars downtown or the trendy bars in the Grove or maybe just back to the hotel to sleep. But that doesn’t matter. They still came.
There are two ways to react to this story:
1) That darn Yasiel Puig shouldn’t be partying during the season! Back in my day, ballplayers stared at the wall after a game until they could wake up and practice again. This is the wrong way to react to this story.
2) Man, Yasiel Puig actually acts like a real human being and interacts with his fans in a way that isn’t aloof or selfish. He graciously allows for selfies and responds to Twitter messages and explores the cities he visits which seems like an incredible privilege afforded to professional athletes that so many seem to throw away. This is the correct way to react to this story.
For the entirety of Puig’s career, there have been grumbles and grumps that he’s too flamboyant, he doesn’t take it seriously, he’s a cancer to the team because he’s just too darn happy. Bill Plaschke was the foremost tsk-tsker of Puig in LA, but I’ve already seen Reds fans of a similar ilk complaining about the outfielder. Not all Reds fans mind you, but enough.
The idea behind the grumbles stems from a notion of respect, I’ve gathered. Baseball must be respected because it’s a game and he needs to “play the right way” because think of the children and I don’t know really, it’s a pretty thin argument.
Outside of this amorphous concept of respect that I’m not sure anyone really understands, Puig does one thing better than any baseball player I’ve come across: Act like an actual human being.
People have emotions! People get excited! People play pranks and horse around sometimes because life is long and life is sad and sometimes when you’re playing a game, even if you’re getting paid to do it, you want to have fun and forget for a moment that some day you’re going to die and there will be no more games to play. Too grim? Too bad, it’s true.
The best baseball players to follow are the ones who horse around sometimes. Joey Votto and his antics are an excellent example. As are Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett. As were Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn. If you want to lambast Puig for having fun in the dugout or in the field, I have to assume you’ve never joked with a co-worker or played a prank at work to pass the time.
Further, if Puig wants to go to a bar the night before he has no work the next day (ahem, I think us non-baseball players call this a weekend), that seems like a perfectly normal thing to do! It also makes me, a baseball fan, like him even more. Now, I can relate to Puig and his non-work habits!
I guess my point can be boiled down to this: Watching the Reds for the past five years has been a miserable experience. An horrid, uncomfortable, depressing slog. In fact over the last five years, the Reds have the worst winning percentage of any major league team!
It’s been tough. We need some fun. We need some wins. Conveniently, in addition to being fun, Puig has also played in multiple World Series, including the last one where he did this:
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 28, 2018
Yasiel Puig is my friend, why won’t you let him be yours too?