Campers at Camp Simcha in Glen Spey, N.Y., got a new friend: new Cleveland Indians' outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Puig, who joined Cleveland at the July 31 trade deadline from the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team deal, used his first off day in three weeks on Aug. 19 to rent a helicopter and fly into the kosher overnight camp for teenagers and children with cancer and other blood disorders in the Catskill Mountains of New York ahead of Cleveland’s series against the New York Mets.
Puig, who also became a U.S. citizen earlier in the week after he immigrated from Cuba in 2012, got involved with Camp Simcha due to his friendship with Irv Bauman, a Jewish man in the Los Angeles area that Puig met shortly after joining the Los Angeles Dodgers, his first team, in 2013. Puig’s visit to the camp came at the request of Bauman’s grandson, according to MLB.com.
“My grandson actually asked me if it would be possible if Yasiel would possibly make a visit to the camp and the kids would just go crazy if they saw him,” Bauman told MLB.com. “We’ll ask him to do it on Monday on his off-day. Immediately, he says, ‘Of course, I’ll do it.’ … He doesn’t really know a lot about the Jewish heritage. From being with me, he’s learning about kosher, religion, the songs he sang to them yesterday about thanking God for all the wonderful things that happen in life. He was so into it, it was amazing. It’s hard to describe how into it he was.”
Puig, known for his high motor and energetic personality, hopped off a 45-minute helicopter ride in a tiger mask to hide his identity, walking into a room full of anxious children, before removing his mask to shrieks and cheers. He spent about four hours at the camp interacting with the children. Puig apparently expected to give the children advice and encouragement to keep fighting despite their difficult illnesses, but was surprised to be receiving encouragement from the children instead.
“(A boy) started talking about baseball, saying, ‘I love the way you play. Keep going, fight,’” Puig told MLB.com. “And I said, ‘Oh, I’m the one coming here to tell you to keep fighting and everything will be fine, and you’re the one telling me to keep going, fight and work hard’ -- and that made my day.”