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Mom's fighting spirit an inspiration for Diaz

Pirates' catcher thankful she survived kidnapping in Venezuela
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- Elias Diaz sat in front of his locker on Saturday afternoon and pointed to a box behind him. Inside lay a customized catcher's chest protector with "DIAZ" written on top and splashes of pink everywhere.

Whether Diaz plays for the Pirates on Sunday afternoon doesn't matter, he said. He vowed to wear that gear if he's behind the plate or just standing in the dugout. Why? Because Sunday is Mother's Day, and Ana Isabel Soto has earned that much and more.

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PITTSBURGH -- Elias Diaz sat in front of his locker on Saturday afternoon and pointed to a box behind him. Inside lay a customized catcher's chest protector with "DIAZ" written on top and splashes of pink everywhere.

Whether Diaz plays for the Pirates on Sunday afternoon doesn't matter, he said. He vowed to wear that gear if he's behind the plate or just standing in the dugout. Why? Because Sunday is Mother's Day, and Ana Isabel Soto has earned that much and more.

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"You can't imagine how happy and excited I am," Diaz said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "From the moment I received this package, I took pictures of it right away and I sent it over to her.

Get Bucs Mother's Day gear

"I said, 'Mom, this is all for you. Thank you for everything that you've done for us.'"

Soto was kidnapped in Venezuela in February. She was standing outside her house, Diaz said this spring, when a group of men that included police officers and a family friend captured her. They sought money, but received no ransom. Three days later, Soto was rescued.

Diaz's mom remains in Venezuela, surrounded by family. For now, the 27-year-old can only communicate with her by phone -- something he does every day. He was back in front of his locker on Sunday morning, smiling and laughing as he video-chatted with her.

"Glory to God, she's doing very well. She's at home, at peace," Diaz said. "I'm doing everything possible to bring her over here as soon as possible. ... We're very happy to see my mom doing well."

Diaz is simultaneously stunned, yet unsurprised, to see his mother like this. It's been only three months since she survived the kind of harrowing, traumatic moment many Venezuelan baseball players fear for their families. But Soto is mentally tough, Diaz said, and not just as a result of that experience.

Video: Diaz discusses mother's rescue from kidnapping

"Siempre," he said. Always.

"To be able to bounce back and continue forward, that brings us a lot of peace," Diaz added. "It brings us a lot of comfort. It helps us recognize that we have an amazing mom.

"My mom's always been like that. Not only has she always been a fighter, she's just always been a very optimistic person, someone that doesn't allow things to overcome her or bring her down. She's always been a fighter, a survivor. That's something she's always taught us and demonstrated to us as a family."

Soto's attitude has had a profound impact on Diaz. It has been nearly 10 years since the Pirates signed him out of Venezuela, a long road to this point. He made his Major League debut in 2015, but didn't crack an Opening Day roster until this season.

When Diaz arrived at Spring Training, after spending additional time at home following Soto's rescue, he said he felt his "mom was reborn and I was reborn, as well." He's taken full advantage of this new opportunity, entering Sunday with a .372 average and .948 OPS in 17 games.

That perseverance? Diaz learned it from his mom. The success he's enjoying? That's for her, too.

"She's taught us to be fighters, to be people that don't throw in the towel and give up easy. That's been a huge part of my career," Diaz said. "Outside of God, she is my biggest support system. Of course, I always come out and play for my family, but my mom is a huge part of that.

"Coming from a country where we experience devastation the way that my mom has -- just so much heartbreak in my country -- it just reminds you that this is all worth fighting for and that I'm a very blessed person to be able to be here."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Elias Diaz