By Danny Torres
FLUSHING – I wonder when Puerto Rican native Isan Díaz, 23, received the unexpected call that he was finally being called up was he ready to jump into a car and head directly to where the Marlins were playing?
Now, after receiving the exciting news and hearing where his new team was traveling to for their next road trip, he was a bit TOO far for a good old fashion drive. He definitely needed to hop on the next flight because by car it was a 2,189-mile drive to Citi Field.
The Miami Marlins rookie was in Salt Lake City, Utah when the extraordinary news came in around 10:45 AM. Immediately, he knew exactly who would be the first to hear what his AAA manager shared over the phone – his proud father.
After speaking to his father, his beloved mother couldn’t contain her emotions and started to cry. And from his hometown in Springfield, Massachusetts, the family embarked on their exciting journey to Citi Field to witness their son’s Major League debut against the New York Mets.
Prior to arriving at Citi Field, I received a text from Raul Ramos, a colleague of mine, who texted, “Isan Díaz from the Marlins. That’s who you wanna get.” Certainly, I was already hearing the buzz about the possibility of Díaz being called up but I was thrilled to read this text about another Boricua ballplayer entering the ranks of Major League Baseball.
It’s quite amazing to think that not only would he make his Major League debut in Flushing and Marlins’ manager Don Mattingly would plug him in for both games of a doubleheader but in Game One, Isan would face the reigning 2018 Cy Young Winner Jacob DeGrom (7-7).
With his immediate family in attendance and while his father was being interviewed by a television reporter, Díaz connected with a 422-foot blast to left field. His first big leagues hit would be an impressive homer on LIVE TV. His entire family was euphoric – especially his proud father who screamed and cheered his son’s name…ISAN, ISAN, LET’S GO…
Can you believe Isan’s father actually apologized to the reporter for interrupting the interview?
Isan’s elated father added: “He’s a Cy Young winner. He just homered off DeGrom.”
A proud moment for a beaming dad who many years ago handed a little bat to his four-year-old son and wondered, “Maybe one day, he will be the next Ozzie Smith and play in the big leagues.”
Although you were born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, your family eventually settled in Springfield, MA. If you can, talk about how your father introduced his son to baseball and putting a bat into his your hands?
It was around the age of four. We were in my parents’ one-bedroom apartment in Massachusetts. My dad use to always talk about how he would show me how to hold the bat right-handed and he would pitch to me and I would switch to batting left-handed. He left me as a lefty and I’m actually the only lefty in the family. When I was 11-12 years old, I was able to do the Cooperstown tournament and from then on I began to love the game. He kept “feeding” baseball and I kept “eating” it. The journey has been fantastic and I can’t thank him enough.
Although your father was instrumental in your life, what Major League Baseball player did you emulate their style of play? And secondly, what player did your dad speak about often?
My dad was a big fan of Ozzie Smith. He loved how he played and was an amazing shortstop. I remember when I was a kid I use to watch YouTube videos of Ozzie Smith. Around 2007-2008, I was a Yankee fan at the time and had a thing for Robinson Canó. And then Javier Báez jumped into the picture. Those two guys I really looked up too and what I learn from those players to make myself better.
You started with the Arizona Diamondbacks, then the Milwaukee Brewers and become a part of a huge trade. When you saw that you were being moved once again, what was your mindset like?
I was shocked the first time and even more shocked the second time. I really didn’t want to think about anything negative and just always stay positive. Not a lot of guys get the opportunity to be a part of something like that especially with a player like [Christian] Yelich. I was grateful and excited to come to the Marlins.
Obviously, today is your Major League debut. Share with me how you received the news that your time in the big leagues had finally arrived?
I was in bed and I woke up. It was around 10:45am in the morning and I was in Salt Lake City, Utah. I got a phone call from our manager ‘KJ’ [Keith Johnson] and he was telling me how happy he was for me. He was simple about it and went straight to the point. I appreciated that. And I’m so grateful to have had him as a manager. And Dad was the first person I called. He was shocked. I called him through FaceTime and I know the look in his eyes. He couldn’t believe it. Then I called my Mom and she started crying. It was tears of joy.
With every Puerto Rican ballplayer I’ve interviewed, I have to ask this question. When did you first hear about Roberto Clemente?
To be honest, my Dad and grandfather use to speak about him often. The very first time I heard of him was in fifth grade when I was in class. I remember this because there was a show-and-tell and I came into school in my full uniform. And the conversation was, ‘Who do you want to be when you grow up?’ I said, ‘I want to be a Major League Baseball player.’ That day, everyone shared who they wanted to be when they grow up and the teacher said to me if I knew who Roberto Clemente was. That’s when I started to read about him.
For you, what stuck out about Roberto Clemente?
There’s so much on Clemente and so many variables. But to me, I want to say it was his courage. He had so much courage to be who he was. Not a lot of people are like that and you have to respect that. Without courage, who can you be? For me, that word summarizes who he was and I truly admire that about him.
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