The Toughest Athletes Ever: Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig

Baseball doesn’t seem like the kind of game that would attract tough characters—football is a physical battle for every inch of field, hockey players perform through catastrophic injuries every day, even basketball and soccer have plenty of bumping and bruising. But baseball players face almost no contact and very little aggression during the course of a game.

And yet, for more than a century baseball has attracted some of the meanest, toughest, most competitive athletes sport has ever seen. No one ever accused Pete Rose, or Ty Cobb, or Nolan Ryan of being soft. Likewise, Los Angeles Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig will likely be remembered a long time for his grit and toughness.

Plenty has been said and written of his talent—he played his first big league game in June, but he has a shot at a batting title, is among the leaders in outfield assists, and he’s taken away nearly a dozen hits with acrobatic catches—but Puig deserves just as much respect for how hard he plays.

Puig burst into the major leagues with four homeruns and 10 RBI in his first five games, earning him Player of the Week honours, but not everyone in baseball was enamoured with the Cuban rookie’s debut. Puig ruffled feathers with his hyperconfident, physical style of play, running over Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero for no reason when he was out by a mile.

The next day, D-Backs pitcher Ian Kennedy retaliated by hitting Puig with a fastball—in the nose. Not only did Puig stay in the game, he was at the centre of the brawl that erupted after Kennedy plunked Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke in the helmet.

That was just the beginning of Puig’s legend. Since then he’s built a reputation for risking his life to make a catch. He made a spectacular grab while diving in front of teammate Andre Ethier like a secret service agent protecting the President, almost broke himself in half taking a hit away from the Rockies, and ran full speed into the outfield wall at the Rogers Centre to make a catch before overthrowing first base—a feat few outfielders could do in practice. In his piece-de-resistance, he collided full-speed with a brick wall at Wrigley Field while the ball bounced off his glove, but he kept his eye on the ball as he fell to the warning track, coming within a fingernail of making the catch of the year.

For all the complaints about his attitude and reverence for his talent, Puig plays like a young man who loves baseball more than anything. Call him the Alex Ovechkin of the MLB—Ovechkin’s exuberance caused similar waves during his first season in the NHL, but no one ever accused him of lacking passion or skill. Puig may slow down some day, but we aren’t likely to catch him giving up on a play to avoid risking an injury. His fearlessness is etched into his character, and it makes him one of the toughest athletes around.

Tags: Baseball

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