As one of the biggest names to sign with a South Korean baseball club, former National League All-Star Yasiel Puig is off to a slow start in his first preseason for the Kiwoom Heroes while also causing minor controversy off the field.
Though he has gone 1-for-9 with three strikeouts in his first four games prior to Thursday, the Cuban slugger hasn't seemed fazed by his sluggish performance. Earlier this week, Puig uploaded a video of himself dancing, maskless, in an alley in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in Seoul, on Instagram.
Puig was technically violating South Korea's mask mandate at the height of the pandemic here. The country reported a record 621,328 COVID-19 cases Thursday morning, with an average of over 380,000 over the past seven days.
Prior to Thursday's home game against the SSG Landers at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Heroes' manager Hong Won-ki came to the player's defense regarding the video clip.
"I know (not wearing a mask in public) is a sensitive issue during the pandemic," Hong said. "But foreign athletes like him spend a few months at a time in a foreign country, and they need to blow off steam from time to time. That way, they can concentrate better when they're on the field. I think it'd be the same for Korean athletes competing overseas. I think leaving it up to individual players to make their own decisions is the right thing to do."
For all his considerable talent as a toolsy outfielder, Puig arrived in South Korea with a reputation as a potential head case who could run into trouble. He had been known as a cantankerous teammate with a questionable work ethic, and faced sexual assault allegations before settling outside the court.
The Heroes are hoping Puig will behave himself this year, if only to give himself a shot at returning to the majors.
As for Puig's performance at the dish, Hong said, "He has his own game plans and things are going according to those plans."
"He is not down on himself at all," the manager added. "He's getting along great with the guys. And once it's game time, he can turn up his intensity and really focus. He has a serious approach to the game."
Puig had two plate appearances in three of his first four games so far, and Hong said the outfielder will start seeing at least three plate appearances, beginning with Thursday's game. (Yonhap)