‘Mistake hitter' Diaz hoping for Rangers call-up — maybe today
From Bob Hersom at the OKC Tattler ...
The late, great outfielder Roberto Clemente would be saddened by the Chicago high school bearing his name.
Just ask RedHawks slugger Victor Diaz, who was graduated from Roberto Clemente High School in 2000.
"It was a real bad high school," Diaz said. "It was all about gang bangin'. Out of my original freshman class of 1,200, only 196 graduated."
Diaz moved to Chicago from his native Dominican Republic shortly before his second birthday in 1983. Diaz and his parents and two older brothers settled in northwest Chicago, near Mozart Park.
"Everybody in the neighborhood," Diaz said, "was a dropout or had a minimum wage job. A lot of my buddies are in prison now. They just picked the wrong life."
Diaz won't talk -- "That's personal," he said -- about how his oldest brother, also named Victor, died four years ago, at the age of 30
"My brothers were always going the wrong way," Diaz said.
Diaz, 25, might be going the right way -- back to the major leagues -- as soon as today. He was held out of the RedHawks' game Monday night, and he might be called up by Texas to replace the ailing Frank Catalanotto.
"He's a good mistake hitter, that's for sure," RedHawks manager Bobby Jones said of Diaz. "They can throw two fastballs right by him and then try to trick him with a breaking ball or changeup, and he'll hit it in the gap. He's swung the bat well all year long for us so far."
Diaz leads the RedHawks in batting (.356), RBIs (28) and most other hitting categories. He is batting .394 with 17 RBIs for his last eight games.
"He's got power to all fields, and he also can hit for an average," RedHawks hitting coach Randy Whisler said. "He's got tremendous hands, in strength and speed, and he's learning to relax and let the ball come to him."
The oldest surviving Diaz brother, Ronnie, is a janitor in Boston. The Diaz parents still live in Chicago, but they'll be moving soon. Their baseball-playing son is having a new home built for them in the Dominican Republic.
"It's real beautiful, five minutes from the beach," Diaz said. "Baseball and God have given me that."
Baseball gave Diaz more than a nice, new house for his parents. Baseball gave him a life.
"Sports kept me out of trouble. I was always busy playing," Diaz said. "In summers, I'd go out to play at 9 in the morning and go home at 8 at night."
Diaz made a big mistake in his final year of high school, though. He flunked a woodworking class and was academically ineligible for his senior baseball season.
"I played the first five games and hit a home run in each game," he said.
Failing woodworking might have cost Diaz millions of dollars. He wasn't taken until the 37th round of the amateur baseball draft.
"I was supposed to go in the first three rounds," he said.
The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Diaz, and he won batting titles in his first two pro seasons, in the 2001 Gulf Coast and 2002 South Atlantic leagues.
The Dodgers traded him to the New York Mets in July 2003, and the Mets traded him to Texas last August. He batted .260 in 110 Mets games the past three years.
"I made it to the big leagues when I was 22. They said I was the next Manny Ramirez," Diaz said. "But me being so young, the opportunity slipped out of my hands."
Entering last season, Diaz was a .302 hitter in five pro seasons, including 104 major league games. He slumped to .182 with the Mets and .224 with Norfolk last year and was traded to Texas.
"I had the worst year of my life last year. I did not produce," Diaz said. "I put that on myself. I had a real bad attitude. But now I'm a family man with a fiancée (Johanna) and two kids (Josiah, 3, and Victorino, eight months)."
And he long ago escaped the demons surrounding Mozart Park.