Díaz's road to All-Star Game paved by family

July 10th, 2023

DENVER -- was a child who had listened to his mother, Ana Soto, and received the award of a lifetime when she “grabbed me by the hand and took me to the ballpark” in Maracaibo, Venezuela. That gentle hand began guiding him toward his eventual All-Star Game selection -- a first for a Rockies catcher in the team’s 31 seasons of existence.

The next important guide spoke in a not-so-sweet, but still caring, voice.

His older brother, Emison Soto, caught for four seasons in the Red Sox's system starting in 1990 (the year Díaz was born), and he caught in various independent and international leagues. He would play at home in Venezuela in the winter, where Díaz still notes, “I was his fan No. 1.” But big brother made sure fulfilling that dream would not be easy.

“He said, ‘Do you want to be a professional? OK, let’s do it,’” Díaz said. “And every day, we went to the ballpark and tried to get better. He was a hard coach, so hard. I cried, everything. Sometimes, I’d say, ‘I don’t want to go today.’ And he’d say, ‘Oh, no. You have to go. You have to be tough.’”

Díaz wasn’t too gentle to make it. And he wasn’t too tough to cry when trying to speak to his team after manager Bud Black announced to the group.

“It means a lot -- everybody back home has been so happy, so proud about what I’ve been doing,” Díaz said. “This is a dream for me and for all of my family and all of my friends. These days have been so pretty, and so crazy.”

Among Major League catchers, Díaz is tied for second in games behind the plate (74), tied for third in hits (77) and third in batting average (.277). He is tied for second in runners caught stealing (13).

This year represents a leap forward for Díaz, 32, who broke in with the Pirates in 2015 when he received mentorship from veteran, and fellow Venezuelan Francisco Cervelli. A chance at playing time yielded on-and-off results, so the Pirates non-tendered him after the 2019 season. The Rockies signed him immediately. After a strong 2021, Díaz earned a three-year, $14.5 million contract from the Rockies, but struggled last year -- admittedly while trying to justify the life-changing money.

When it comes to appreciation from where he has come, not only as a pro but in life, it’s difficult to top Díaz.

Those youthful days, even the hard ones with his brother, still bring a smile to his face, as well as a sense of responsibility to make sure Venezuelans behind him are smiling. Díaz played for Colombia during the World Baseball Classic because it was the birthplace of his late father. But Venezuela made him, and sociological and political tumult won’t change that.

Díaz’s love even survived a harrowing experience in February 2018, when his mother was kidnapped with police involvement and held for about a week before being rescued. The incident was one of several in which players and their families have been targeted.

“Venezuela is my country, and I feel it’s the best, even with the situation we have,” he said. “Venezuelans are my people.”

To that end, Díaz is trying to make the country better through his charity work, some of which is chronicled on his foundation’s Instagram page.

“I try to help almost everybody, especially the little kids,” Díaz said. “We provide food, we provide shoes, things for schools, all that stuff. We started with 10 kids, but now we cover a lot. I want to help people that don’t have money, that don’t have opportunities. And it’s from my heart.”

Díaz’s heart will be filled during the All-Star Game. Ana Soto, 78 now, will be in the stands, and her name is at the top of Díaz’s chest protector.

“Being here and having this opportunity to accomplish a lot of goals, with her still beside me, it’s good,” Díaz said.

His brother is living in Atlanta, where he trains young players at a batting cage business. They spent time reminiscing during the Rockies’ four-game series at Truist Park. In a different way, Emison Soto will be on the field with Díaz.

“A lot of people tell me that we act the same on the field,” Díaz said, realizing the tears of youth led to the smile he’ll have when he takes the field.