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Mercurial Puig is off to Cleveland

Since he sped through Chattanooga, Yasiel Puig has been a Wild Horse and a fascinating star. (photo by Mike Morrow)

According to the Chattanooga police, he was clocked driving 97 mph in a 50-mph speed limit.

That was in April of 2013, when Yasiel Puig, a 22-year-old Cuban defector, was a hot prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers and playing for the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class AA Southern League.

He was driving in and out of his lane, and he was pulled over by police about 1 a.m. And, get this, he said he was serving as a designated driver.

Puig was arrested, charged with reckless driving, speeding and driving without proof of insurance. He was released on his own recognizance. The Dodgers said they would handle discipline internally.

The charges were later dropped. An Associated Press report that November said an executive assistant district attorney in Chattanooga reported Puig completed 12 hours of community service — in Los Angeles, where Puig was called up in June.

Yet that same year, in December, the Florida Highway Patrol pulled Puig over after he drove 110 mph in a 70 mph zone on I-75, in a white Mercedes. He was charged with reckless driving and taken to jail. You can see him pulled over and handcuffed, in pink shorts, in a video of that episode here.

So while Puig seems to have exercised much better behavior on the highway, he remains one of the most mercurial, tempestuous, yet lovable and fascinating athletes to ever come through Tennessee. He is now planted in Cleveland’s outfield, a sudden fixture on a contending ballclub, still wearing his familiar number 66, after being traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Indians on Tuesday.

Yet even the trade was bizarre, and the aftermath extraordinarily dramatic. The reports were out Tuesday night that Puig was part of the three-team deal that would send Cleveland pitcher Trevor Bauer to the Reds. Yet in the midst of the reports, there stood Puig, stationed in right field still in a Reds uniform. So how does that play out? He gets into a fight in the bottom of the ninth, part of a massive melee between the Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He gets ejected for fighting, and on top of that he gets suspended for three games for what baseball called “agressive actions” during the brawl.

So when the Indians played the Astros Thursday night, obviously they would be without their new star, right? Not in Puig World. He and the Indians have appealed his suspension, and Puig rocketed a double off the wall in left field in the fourth inning off Gerrit Cole Thursday night to be part of an Indians rally.

And, oh yes, when Puig appeared before the Cleveland media before the game, he had died his mohawk haircut a shade of red that matched the Indians’ color scheme. On Tuesday his mohawk had been blond. But even the hair change was not particularly surprising, since Puig had shaved his mustache off — between at-bats — a few nights before during a game in Milwaukee.

Puig’s nickname is the Wild Horse. No wonder. And his Wild Horse Children’s Foundation raises money to promote education and sports in underserved communities. And what kind of events does Puig hold to raise money for the cause? A golf tournament? Nope. A bowling party? Nope. Puig hosts a poker tournament. In fact, he held two this year, one in Los Angeles, where he played a season ago, and one in Cincinnati. The fundraiser in Los Angeles in May had a magic theme and was held at the Houdini Estate in Hollywood. The Cincinnati tournament in June was at Great American Ballpark.

Puig never stops. It took no time for him to be contributing to the Indians’ run at the American League Central Division title. With a career batting average of .275, he is batting .252 this season, with 22 home runs and 61 RBIs. The Indians need him.

He is splendid to watch on a baseball field. He can be frightening outside the normal confines of a game. He sent a charge through Cincinnati in the cold of winter when his trade to the Reds was announced, making multiple appearances and numerous friends in a whirlwind introduction to the city. He was one of the most popular Reds players on an otherwise lackluster team. Now, Cleveland gets to enjoy him as much as people did at Puig’s previous stops.

According to Google maps, it’s supposed to take roughly four hours to get to Cleveland from Cincinnati. Let’s just hope Puig didn’t drive.

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