At-bat aside, Aledmys revels in Cuban reunion at ASG

Diaz strikes out in eighth, but happy to play with childhood friend in Marlins' Fernandez

July 13th, 2016

SAN DIEGO -- They never dreamed this big all those years ago, when there in the Cuban neighborhood of Santa Clara, Aledmys Diaz and Jose Fernandez would meet on Eighth Street to play ball.

Their days were consumed by games of catch, whether on the street where their houses stood just a few feet apart or on the field two miles from their homes. As they grew older, they talked about maybe playing together on the Cuban national baseball team. The possibility of ascending to the Majors was a conversation rarely had.

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And an All-Star Game? They couldn't even watch one on television.

Yet all these years later, Diaz and Fernandez found themselves as neighbors once again, this time inside the Petco Park visitor's clubhouse. And they finally got to play together on Tuesday, as both suited up for the National League team, which dropped the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard, 4-2.

"To both be here in the United States and both playing in the All-Star Game, it's unbelievable," Diaz remarked. "It's pretty amazing."

Fernandez was one more familiar face for Diaz to see this week as he absorbed his first All-Star appearance. Representing the Cardinals along with injured second baseman Matt Carpenter, Diaz entered Tuesday's game in the biggest of spots. Summoned to pinch-hit with the bases loaded, two outs and the NL team trailing by two in the eighth inning, Diaz dug in against Astros reliever Will Harris.

"I think that was the perfect moment for me," Diaz said afterward. "That's everything you can want when you come to an All-Star Game. Bases loaded and a chance to hit."

Home-plate umpire Mike Winters' strike call on Harris' 1-0 pitch -- which Diaz said after the game he still believed was outside -- changed the course of the at-bat. Diaz went on to work the count full before being rung up by Winters on a cutter that Harris placed on the edge of the outside corner.

"The last one was a good pitch," Diaz said. "I have to swing at that ball."

The outcome, however, did not sour the experience for the rookie shortstop, who had his parents in San Diego to share in the festivities. For his father, Rigoberto, the trip allowed him an opportunity not just to watch his own son, but also Fernandez, whom he helped mentor years ago. Fernandez said he greeted Rigoberto with "one of the biggest hugs I've given somebody in a long time" upon seeing him.

"I play baseball thanks to his dad," Fernandez said. "His dad is the one who told my mom to take me to the baseball field. I love him. I love his family."

Fernandez, who made his Major League debut three years before Diaz, has been watching his longtime buddy from afar. The two connect each spring, as the Marlins and Cardinals share a Spring Training facility in Jupiter, Fla., and they will again meet up this coming weekend, when Miami visits St. Louis for a three-game series.

"I always knew that he was great," Fernandez said of Diaz. "What makes him better is the way he goes about his business, how hard he works and what he does. I never had a doubt [about him]."

Though Tuesday's game wasn't broadcast live in Cuba, Diaz expects it to be available in a few days. He hopes, too, that some of his old neighbors, those who once watched a pair of young boys play along Eighth Street, will take some pride in seeing them together again.

"For us both to be a part of this is pretty amazing," Diaz said. "It's pretty amazing for our country, too. I think a lot of people will want to see this game."