With daylight saving postponed until March and winter’s bitterness nearing, one of baseball’s ephemeral love stories is over: Yasiel Puig’s favorite kissing partner, hitting coach Turner Ward, is headed to Cincinnati away from Los Angeles. After three seasons in Los Angeles, Ward is joining new manager David Bell’s staff with the Reds so he can be closer to his family in Mobile, Ala.
"The vision of what they're trying to do, I can see it," Ward said on a media conference call. "I've been impressed with their offense. Also, add the logistics of being closer to home. Family is very important to me and it made it hard being in LA."
Ward burnished his credentials during his three seasons in Los Angeles. The 12-year MLB veteran helped the Dodgers set club records in homers, extra-base hits and slugging percentage in consecutive seasons and assisted in the rises of formerly unheralded players like Chris Taylor and Max Muncy.
But it was his relationship with Puig that lit up the cameras and our cold, darkened souls with sparkles of a love cultivated by years of hard work together. When Ward arrived in L.A., Puig’s reputation was that of an undisciplined hacker. In some of his most consequential moments, Puig was a safe bet to wave at a slider outside of the zone and, worse, make the same mistake the next time around. Under Ward, that changed. An appreciative Puig showed his love with endearing smooches on Ward’s cheek.
When Ward arrived in 2016, Puig was coming off an injury-plagued campaign that saw him just 11 homers and slash .255/.322/.436 in only 79 games. While his nadir wouldn’t come until midway through 2016 when he was demoted to the minors, Puig’s work with Ward started to show in the 2016 postseason. He provided occasional fireworks in his first three postseasons but struck out 25 times against just two walks in 61 playoff plate appearances from 2013 through '15 for a total slash line of .281/.328/.368 and zero homers. Under Ward, Puig improved to .280/.362/.456 with five homers over 141 plate appearances.
Why? The walks went up (18), the strikeouts went down (21 in 80 fewer plate appearances), and his better pitch recognition was evident to anyone who watched the Dodgers. Puig was on the trading block during the 2015 and ‘16 seasons, so it’s not a stretch to suggest that Ward helped keep the outfielder in Los Angeles.
But what are fans going to miss most? They’re going to miss the kisses.
Puig made it a habit of planting a smooch on Ward every time he hit a home run. It became a most endearing tradition: The coquettish Puig would approach a blushing Ward, who would initially recoil before embracing the kiss. By the end of the season, Ward would sometimes be the one planting the kiss. He was even seen wearing a PUCKER UP WITH PUIG shirt.
It’s a sight that most baseball fans will miss. The two cultivated a relationship that helped turn Puig into a staple in the Dodgers' lineup after years of inconsistency, one that each would seal with a kiss. What is more intriguing is whether the next Dodgers’ coach will cultivate a similar bond with the rambunctious and enigmatic star.
The sun may be setting on one Hollywood romance; perhaps another will begin. But they'll always have the three magical years together.