BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates catcher Elias Diaz reported to Spring Training on Sunday morning, smiling as usual inside the Pirate City clubhouse, with some good news to share. His mother, Ana Isabel Soto, is "doing a lot better" after she was kidnapped and rescued in Venezuela, Diaz said."She's doing well.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates catcher Elias Diaz reported to Spring Training on Sunday morning, smiling as usual inside the Pirate City clubhouse, with some good news to share. His mother, Ana Isabel Soto, is "doing a lot better" after she was kidnapped and rescued in Venezuela, Diaz said.
"She's doing well. That's what's important," he said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "That's what matters. We're very glad."
According to Diaz, the 72-year-old Soto was talking with a friend outside of her house when a group of men, including a few police officers and a family friend, took her. They were seeking money in exchange for her safe return, Diaz said, but she was rescued three days later -- without any ransom paid -- by judicial police, state police and other security officers.
"In the beginning, I have no words to describe the reaction and the response of when I received the news. It was heartbreaking," Diaz said. "No one really prepares themselves for something like that. No one really takes the time to think that through, to try to even imagine what that could feel like. However, when it hit me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a very tough situation to deal with.
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"When I did find out the news that we found my mom, I can tell you the joy I felt was overwhelming. I've never felt that caliber of joy that I felt the moment I received the news that my mom was coming back home."
Diaz was particularly distraught to learn that a family friend was involved in the kidnapping.
"It kind of removes the trust -- the trust of your roots," he said. "It makes you want to detach from your roots and maybe even question, 'Do I want to go back? Do I want to remain there?' You kind of lose the trust, and it makes you more aware of your surroundings. It's kind of sad. It's a very tough situation to deal with."
Diaz said he will do "everything possible to protect" his family. His plan is to move his immediate family out of his native Venezuela as soon as possible, though he admitted that is a "tough process."
The Pirates offered Diaz, 27, support throughout the distressing experience and gave him permission to stay with his family, delaying his arrival for Spring Training. He joined the team on Sunday, the deadline for position players to report and exactly a week after his mother was rescued.
"I think it helps, no doubt, getting back in his routine," manager Clint Hurdle said. "To know that his mother's safe and secure now, it's a much better place than we were a week or 10 days ago."
Diaz said he was grateful for the Pirates' support, particularly that of Venezuelan teammates Francisco Cervelli, Felipe Rivero and Jose Osuna.
"I felt like my baseball family had my back," Diaz said. "It was very special to know my team had my back and was there supporting me and praying it up for me."
Now Diaz will begin preparing for his first full Major League season as Cervelli's backup. After what his family has been through, he said, he is looking forward to getting back to baseball.
"Without a doubt. I feel like a brand new man," Diaz said. "I feel like my mom was reborn and I was reborn as well. I'm more than excited, just motivated to get back on the field and do everything I can to help my team out and get ready for the season."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.