CLEVELAND -- Yandy Diaz would have loved nothing more than to have his mom in the stands for his Major League debut. After all the sacrifices made in order for him to pursue his dream, the person who pushed Diaz to play baseball in the first place could not watch
CLEVELAND -- Yandy Diaz would have loved nothing more than to have his mom in the stands for his Major League debut. After all the sacrifices made in order for him to pursue his dream, the person who pushed Diaz to play baseball in the first place could not watch the game.
So, while Diaz took the field for the Indians on Opening Day in Texas, two staff members of the team recorded videos on their phones. Another person on the broadcast crew also pieced together a highlight package. Those clips were later sent to Diaz, who was able to pass them along to his mom, Elsa María Fernández, back home in Cuba.
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Fernández got to see Diaz make a diving catch to rob Nomar Mazara of a hit, and then watched her son double into the right-field corner against Yu Darvish.
"It was really hard for me to not be there in that moment by his side supporting him," said Fernández, who spoke via phone from Cuba in a conversation with MLB.com and Anna Bolton, the Indians' team translator. "It was really hard for me, because I was always there for all of his baseball career, and to not be there in such a beautiful moment was very difficult.
"But at the same time, I was really happy. In that moment, I felt that I was the proudest mom in the whole world."
After spending a couple weeks back with Triple-A Columbus, Diaz was called back to the Majors by Cleveland on Monday -- one day after his mom's birthday. The Indians rookie makes a point to call her about three times each week. He is looking forward to the day they can speak in person again. For now, every call requires a credit card payment that allows 15 minutes to talk for $10.
Asked how important his mom is to him, Diaz didn't hesitate.
"Todo. Todo. Todo," he said.
For Fernández, her weekly talks with her son bring a mixture of emotions.
"It's been almost five years that I haven't seen my boy," said Fernández, fighting back tears. "There are moments that I can't even talk to him and he tells me, 'Mamá, don't cry. Don't cry.' But, I feel a lot of excitement and pain at the same time."
When Diaz -- an only child -- was young, he would often hang around with older kids. He typically had some sort of ball in tow, though he was mostly drawn to soccer and basketball. As Diaz got older, Fernández steered him toward baseball. His father, Jorge, had been a baseball star in Cuba. Fernández thought Diaz could follow in his footsteps.
He listened to his mom, began playing for his school's team when he was around eight years old and quickly fell in love with the sport.
"I didn't even like baseball at the beginning," Diaz said with a smile. "She's the one who convinced me to start playing baseball, and it's my whole life now."
As is the case for many Cuban kids, that passion for baseball led to a difficult decision. Diaz knew he would need to leave his country -- and his mom -- in order to pursue his dream of playing in the big leagues. He tried to flee twice, but was caught and jailed for 21 days each time. In 2013, when Diaz was 21, he attempted a third escape. His mom was supportive.
The last time Diaz saw his mom was in a Cuban hospital, at the side of his grandmother, who passed away a couple weeks later following a battle with cancer.
"It was really hard," Diaz said. "At first, she didn't agree with my decision, because I'm the only child and she didn't want to be alone. She said that she was going to miss me. But, over time, she kind of changed her mind and agreed with me and supported me about my decision."
On the third try, the group Diaz joined -- including his friend and current Indians Minor Leaguer Leandro Linares -- was successful. They used a motorized raft to travel from Cuba's eastern coast to Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic. After the 12-hour journey, which included sharks appearing near the raft, one of the people who helped Diaz got his mom on the phone.
"He gave me his phone to talk to her," Diaz said.
Asked if it was an emotional discussion, Diaz only nodded.
That call was a moment Fernández will never forget.
"He's my life. My reason for living. Everything I do is for him," she said. "When he got to land in the Dominican, I felt a great relief, because he was alive and he made it. But, the pain. There was pain. There was excitement. I don't have words to explain this moment in Yandy's and my life. I don't have words, because it was all of this combined."
Diaz is looking forward to the day when that pain goes away, a day when he can embrace his mom again.
"Little by little, I'm trying to bring her here," he said. "I need her. I need her by my side."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.