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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Dodgers needed Puig's infectious personality

Dodgers needed Puig's infectious personality

Dodgers needed Puig's infectious personality play video for Dodgers needed Puig's infectious personality

Sure, one player can energize an entire team. Maybe even transform it. Why the heck not? Didn't Mike Trout change the Angels a year ago? For the record, they were 6-14 before he arrived, 83-59 after.

Trout was the best baseball player on earth for those 142 games, and his joy and enthusiasm were infectious. If you've watched the Dodgers the past two nights, it suddenly seems possible a similar thing could happen.

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Maybe the Dodgers -- and those happy people in Chavez Ravine -- will feed off 22-year-old Yasiel Puig's joy, enthusiasm and production. Have you seen him running around out there smiling, bumping teammates, having the time of his life? How can you not be excited?

Puig might remind his teammates why they fell in love with baseball in the first place. Once upon a time, the Dodgers would acquire a veteran player, and Tommy Lasorda would tell him, "You're going to love being a Dodger. It's going to be just like when you were a kid playing with your friends in the backyard."

People laughed at Lasorda for saying stuff like that, but his secret was that he created exactly that kind of environment. His clubhouses were loud, happy places, and when the Dodgers were rolling, Lasorda's players did a good imitation of the happiest people on earth.

If you care about the Dodgers, you're wondering what the kid will do next. You're counting down the hours until game time. Los Angeles is a star-driven city, and time will stop when Puig steps into the batter's box. Another home run? Sure, why not? A laser throw from the outfield? You bet.

Even better, Puig's new teammates are as eager as the fans to see him play. Today, everyone at Dodger Stadium, every coach, every employee, absolutely everyone, has more bounce in their step after watching this kid.

The Dodgers have been less than stellar up to this point. Some of it is poor performances by players of whom more is expected. Some of it is injuries. And some of it just might be the usual problems that come with throwing a group of veteran players into the same clubhouse for the first time.

The Dodgers knew chemistry might be a problem, but they hoped that they'd start fast and that a real team would develop from there. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and now with eight players on the disabled list, including Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis, the Dodgers, for now, simply aren't the team they were supposed to be.

High expectations can drain the joy from a room. The Reds felt it every step of the way last season. Winning was more a relief than a joy. The Nationals are dealing with the same thing this season.

When these teams start to slide, players began trying to hit eight-run home runs. Instead of doing their job and trusting their teammates, they feel compelled to lift the club themselves.

With a 29-29 team on his hands, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo shook up the clubhouse mix this week, in part, by calling up his best prospect, Anthony Rendon, after Danny Espinosa went on the 15-day DL.

The Nationals desperately need Rendon to provide some offense, but they need more than that, too. Like the Dodgers, they may just need a jolt, something that can't be weighed or measured, but something that can be felt.

The Dodgers are at the bottom of the National League West, but with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation and with Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez in the middle of the lineup and with the new kid leading off, there still might be enough talent to win.

Kemp will be back at some point. So will Crawford. Josh Beckett might also get healthy. The Dodgers might have enough depth in the farm system to add a veteran, and management has shown it's willing to spend the cash.

Yet what they may need more than anything else is a reminder that the game should not be a burden, that it can still be what Lasorda once told his players what it was. To do that, they need two things.

They need to win a few and piece their confidence back together. And they need a kid like Puig coming into their lives and hitting the ball a long way and running hard and smiling every step of the way.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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