ENCINO, LOS ANGELES - After practice for the Los Angeles Dodgers wrapped up Wednesday night, star outfielder Yasiel Puig arrived at a small ballpark in Encino to play catch with a club team of young kids.
Just a few weeks ago, the 10- and 11-year-olds thought their dream of reaching a prestigious tournament in Cooperstown were dashed. Their coaches had quit days before the first tournament.
Then Puig and his Wild Horse Children's Foundation came into the picture. The foundation decided to sponsor the team and their hopeful two-year run to a Cooperstown tournament in 2019.
"It's very exciting for him to be here and help us," said 11-year-old A.J. "He's helping them be confident and build up their strength."
A.J. suffers from rhuematoid arthritis. Many members of the team battle medical and financial challenges, but it doesn't deter them. They still practice several hours a week, and their story caught Puig's attention.
"They remind me of when I'm in Cuba and have no glove or bat," Puig said, "Now, when I come to the United States and sign with the Dodgers and have a little bit of money, I want to do something for the community and help the kids."
With Puig's foundation behind them, the team will be renamed the "Wild Horse 66ers." In return, the young players will join Puig and his foundation to give back to their local community.
"A lot of community service, and these kids understand that's what it's going to take to be on this team," said Eugene Elbert, the team administrator.
Puig said he has grown up over the last three or four years, both on and off the field, and he wants to show these kids that focus and hard work pays off.
"I want to show my little team, right now, that if I made the gold glove, it's because I was working every day to make that goal," Puig said.
It's a message these kids said they understand. They have big goals, too, and they now have a chance to achieve them with Puig's help.