NEW YORK — For an afternoon, Section 121 at Citi Field became Little Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Miami Marlins brought up second baseman Isan Diaz for his major league debut prior to Monday’s doubleheader against the New York Mets.
Diaz’s father, Raul, was being interviewed by FOX Sports Miami’s Craig Minervini during his son’s third at-bat in the sixth inning against reigning National League Cy Young winner, Jacob deGrom. When the rookie drove a 422-foot homer to right-center, Raul Diaz became a viral sensation.
“It was priceless,” said Diaz’s mother, Delsa Velsaquez, after watching a clip of her husband’s reaction to the homer — an elated and proud papa jumping up and down with his arms extended as far as they’ll go, yelling out of pure emotion.
“It’s surreal,” Velsaquez said. “It's just amazing.”
Diaz’s family and friends accounted for roughly 40-50 spectators in the Mets’ 6-2 victory in the opener. Before Diaz was recalled, Velasquez joked that it would be ironic if the 23-year-old made his big league debut in New York, roughly two-and-a-half hours from the family home in Springfield.
When that irony came to life, the troops rallied quickly. Manny Rivera, a family friend, organized a trip of around 20 from Springfield. He had white T-shirts printed with “Diaz” on the back in Marlins’ type and “413” (the Springfield area code) stretched across a logo which he mentioned was just different enough from the Marlins’.
“A lot of those guys, a lot of my good friends, brothers that basically saw how me and him were constantly just working,” Raul Diaz said. “Just building it and trying to get better at the craft because we knew that this level here, you couldn't take a break.”
The homer was the only hit in four at-bats for Diaz, a former Milwaukee Brewers farmhand who landed in Miami as part of the Christian Yelich deal. Diaz had nine hits, including two homers, in his last five games with Triple-A New Orleans. But the homer Monday brought about the “glow” that he and his father often talked about growing up.
“I said, 'Dude. This is it. You made your stand. You made your promise. And you're here. It's time to glow,'” Raul Diaz said, explaining that “the glow” was inspired by the 1985 movie The Last Dragon. “To get his first hit and made it be a home run off deGrom. It's pretty special.”
Marlins manager Don Mattingly, understandably stern after his team fell to 42-68 on the season, perked up a bit to express some relief for Diaz as he got his first hit and homer out of the way.
“More than that, you see the at-bats,” he said. “You see him taking some pretty good changeups, breaking balls from deGrom. He takes them easy.”
Mattingly recalled the first of his 222 career homers, on June 24, 1983 off John Tudor at Fenway Park.
“Wrapped it around that little Pesky Pole out there. Bounced back onto the field and I thought it was a double,” Mattingly said. “I had to run hard and everything.
“No family there. Nobody cared.”
Things were much different for Isan Diaz.
The 70th overall draft pick in 2014 said his first call after receiving the news of his promotion went to his parents. He noted that he wasn’t just telling them good news, but that he wanted to thank them. He was as excited to play in front of his family as he was to play in front of a major league crowd.
His father insists that he and his wife are good-luck charms.
“What's bizarre is that everywhere we've gone, whether it's Wisconsin, Montana, Carolina, ... the love in the air when we're there. He feels it,” Raul Diaz said. “He never lets us go away without the dinger.”
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