THE WORLD UNFOLDS from a few simple words. They're written in the form of inscriptions on two pieces of memorabilia in the trophy room of Yasiel Puig's Miami home. They are, appropriately if not intentionally, displayed on opposite sides of the room. Chasms open between syllables. Sides are taken, armies gather.
One of them chooses the most soaring, majestic word in our vocabulary. It is direct, forceful and uncomplicated, unsullied by outside influence. Scrawled on the leather of an NBA basketball, it celebrates the propulsive nature of Puig's talent, raw and wild, a gale force that seems to possess a humanity all its own.
-- Kobe Bryant
The other takes a different approach. Its words are written on the back of America's most recognizable and stately uniform -- the game's holy robe -- the ink traveling across pinstripes to form seven words that seem to descend from above. Clouds roll in, dark and heavy. Across the shoulders of a No. 6 Yankees jersey, it reads:
Be a credit to our great game
-- Joe Torre
It is inspiration as admonition, arriving from baseball's avuncular beat cop as a rhetorical arm-crossing, a reminder that actions will be governed and judged by an omniscient and exacting standard. Within those words, shadow overlaps shadow, stretching back more than a century, each one watching like a ghost in the night. Each ballplayer, no matter where he comes from or what he can do, is part of a continuum, nothing more than a small thread within the game's elaborate fabric.
The two inscriptions are born of the same thought: There is something different, something special, at work here. This 23-year-old Dodgers outfielder operates at a frequency everyone can hear. Anticipation builds, apathy dies. The eye is drawn. Embedded within the two messages is the acknowledgment of these qualities, of Puig's potentially transformative role in the game, his outsize talent coupled with the naked and fierce joy with which he displays it.
Yes, they come from the same place.
And yet an entire world resides in the space between them.
HE EMERGED WHOLE from the sea. That's another part of this: mystery. There are no photos of him as a child on display in his home. There is no real backstory, just a handful of vague, disconnected -- and sometimes uncorroborated -- anecdotes that combine to create the effect of 50 pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle.
What do we know? Everyone has a creation story, a concise tale oft-told that provides a synopsis for everything we see on a court or a field. Adversity is overcome, slights magically transform into eternal motivation, tragedies provide inspiration. In Puig's case -- and in the case of most Cuban players -- we know only what he and those around him are willing to divulge. Circumspection is a necessary cultural trait.
What we know: Puig grew up in an educated but poor household in Cienfuegos, about 150 miles southeast of Havana, with his parents and a younger sister. His father, Omar, was an engineer in a sugarcane factory. When Yasiel began playing organized baseball at 9, Omar gathered wood to give to a friend, who made Yasiel's first bats.