It’s not an easy road for any baseball player to make it to the Major Leagues here in the US. And up until now, Yasiel Puig’s story has been somewhat of a mystery. In May’s Issue of Los Angeles Magazine, writer Jesse Katz uncovers the chilling story of Puig’s past in Cuba and his journey to the Dodgers.
Katz’s feature gives us new insight into Puig’s dark background and understanding behind Puig’s personality and “Puig being Puig” behavior. In an over 8,000 word article, Katz tells his shocking story in what reads like a Hollywood movie script and leaves us asking more questions about Puig and what he had to go through to play here. The article quotes Puig saying:
I was born to play baseball.
According to Katz, Puig was paid just $17 a month to play for Cuba’s baseball system. The $17 is pocket change now to the seven-year $42 million dollar deal he signed with the Dodgers back in 2012. Puig risked his life many times trying to escape communist Cuba to make this dream a reality.
Puig’s journey, according to claims made in court documents and detailed in interviews, had been underwritten by a small-time crook in Miami named Raul Pacheco….Pacheco had allegedly agreed to pay the smugglers $250,000 to get Puig out of Cuba; Puig, after signing a contract, would owe 20 percent of his future earnings to Pacheco.
Puig’s escape didn’t exactly work out like that. Puig was smuggled to Mexico because the US trade embargo forbids MLB and other US companies from doing business within Cuba. Making it to Mexico allowed Puig to declare himself a free agent. The most shocking part of the article is that Puig’s smuggling ring was controlled by the Mexican drug cartel, Los Zetas, which charged the smugglers entry into the Mexican Island, Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancun. The article states that for every day the smugglers were unpaid by Pacheco, they upped Puig’s price in increments of $20,000. Puig became a captive for weeks. Puig’s childhood friend and boxer who escaped with him said:
I don’t know if you could call it a kidnapping, because we had gone there voluntarily, but we also weren’t free to leave. If they didn’t receive the money, they were saying that at any moment they might give him a whack with a machete—“chop off an arm, a finger, whatever, and he would never play baseball again, not for anyone.
While Puig’s escape is shocking to us, this is something that happens all the time in Cuba, citizens and players who risk their lives and leave family behind with the hope of a better life. Rookie infielder, Alex Guerrero told Katz at Spring Training about his experience fleeing the country. He said:
You’re afraid to leave your family, you’re afraid that maybe you won’t triumph. It’s just a very difficult step. Once you board one of those boats, you don’t know who is who and how those people are going to react, or what’s going to happen out in the sea.
We can’t help but wonder how many talented Cuban baseball players will never leave the country because of the political situation. We can only hope this article sheds more light on a complex situation that we will never fully know or understand what Cubans have to go through to finally make it here.
The article leaves us asking many questions, and hoping for the safety of his family.
VIDEO: Here’s Our Exclusive Interview With Yasiel Puig