For super scout, just another manic discovery
Dodgers' Brito, responsible for Fernandomania, sees his latest find, Puig, shine in debut
LOS ANGELES -- Mike Brito strikes again.
More than three decades after helping orchestrate Fernandomania, a sports phenomenon unmatched in Tinseltown, Brito appears to have waved his scouting wand a second time.
Fernando Valenzuela, meet Yasiel Puig. Even better, Fernando, tell your Spanish language constituents all about the Cuban sensation, who hopes to leave an impact on the Dodgers and their fans similar to that of the incomparable Mexican southpaw a generation ago.
"Puig is the 32nd player I signed to make it to the big leagues in my 34 years in the organization," Brito said. "It's a great feeling."
Known for his white Panama hat and the radar gun he held behind home plate at Dodger Stadium before readings became commonplace, Brito watched the Dodgers' right fielder deliver a Major League debut of cinematic proportions on Monday night. It had everything but a baseball off Puig's bat exploding the scoreboard.
His perfect throw from the warning track in right field put the finishing touch on a 2-1 victory. The double play completed at first base by Adrian Gonzalez might not be matched anywhere this season for timely drama and athletic greatness.
"It was ... unbelievable," Don Mattingly said, struggling for words to fit the occasion in the immediate afterglow.
It brought to mind the reaction to Valenzuela in 1981, when he went 8-0 out of the chute and took ownership of his adopted city.
Valenzuela, discovered by Brito and colleague Corito Verona on a Mexican diamond in 1979, reached Dodger Stadium in the last month of the 1980 season. He set off Fernandomania at the outset of a 1981 season that culminated, after a summer work stoppage, in a World Series title for manager Tommy Lasorda's troupe at the expense of the Yankees.
Valenzuela exploded on the scene like a Roman candle, but he wasn't the first Brito discovery to make the big time. That distinction belonged to Bobby Castillo, a hard-throwing right-hander from East L.A. who made his Dodgers debut in 1977.
Castillo played a significant role in Fernando's ascent by teaching him the screwball at the suggestion of general manager Al Campanis and Brito.
"Babo Castillo was my first," Brito said. "Fernando was third. There have been so many others. Now I'm watching Yasiel play and getting that feeling of pride all over again."
Puig pulled all of his tools out of the box while going 2-for-4 before his jaw-dropping throw closed the show. His 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame inspires comparisons to Bo Jackson, Puig's blazing speed enhancing the profile.
The 260-foot heave on the fly in his debut evoked the magical name of Roberto Clemente. The Pirates' superstar made a Hall of Fame career of such fantastic displays before his tragic death on the final day of 1972 while flying relief goods into earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua.
Brito, a native Cuban who left his homeland in 1955 to sign as a catcher with the Washington Senators, had been tipped off by Cuban contacts about Puig.
When Brito saw Puig for the first time in a junior tournament in Canada, the athlete was 17. The scout was reminded of Minnie Minoso, his favorite player growing up.
"I always wanted a Cuban player," said Brito, adding that he left Cuba "right before Castro. I know the Cubans got talent. Before Castro, Cubans produced more players than anywhere other than the United States.
"With Castro in power, everything changed. But people there tell me that they have so much talent there. If we had a tryout camp, we'd sign 80 percent of them."
In his native land, Puig went largely unseen by American scouts. Accompanied by Logan White, the Dodgers' vice president of scouting, Brito attended Puig's audition workout in June 2012 in Mexico City, where the right-handed hitter was limited to swinging the bat.
Leaning heavily on Brito's old-school scouting instincts, the Dodgers offered Puig a Major League contract adding up to $42 million across seven seasons. The rest -- proving he had the maturity, professionalism and desire to go with his abundant natural ability - would be up to Puig.
The financial package was widely viewed as an excessive gamble. The Dodgers, looking to replenish the farm system and renew their aggression in the international market under new management, didn't mind going high for both Puig and Korean southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has exceeded expectations.
After watching Puig ignite the Dodgers in his debut, personnel mavens around the game must be wishing they'd taken a flyer on the kid with all five tools -- hitting ability, power, speed, glove and arm -- and an innate flair to accentuate them.
"You don't need to be a genius to see the talent with a guy like this," Brito said. "He showed me arm, speed, power to all fields. I went to that tournament to scout everybody. I always watch the Cuban team, because you never know when somebody will defect.
"It's like when I signed Fernando. I went to see a shortstop Fernando was pitching against. I never signed the shortstop."
In the supremely confident Puig, Brito saw a larger Minoso, the Cuban outfielder who starred for the White Sox and Indians.
"He was playing right field [in Canada]," Brito said, "but he can play center if you need him there. He's a great athlete, very confident. He has a chance to be a star."
Puig asked for the same No. 66 he wore in Spring Training when he was summoned from Double-A Chattanooga, where he was leading the Southern League in hitting and slugging.
The Dodgers, in dire need of some traction, clearly wouldn't mind traveling Route 66 to happier times.