Runnin', Runnin' (& Runnin', Runnin')

How far are you willing to go to make your dreams come true?

(Bert Hindman)

By Robby Veronesi & Macarena Aguirre Estalella / Bowie Baysox | September 17, 2018 9:26 AM

Baysox outfielder Yusniel Diaz has been running around a lot since his first steps in the state of Maryland this summer.

Running around the outfield. Running down the baselines. Running in an attempt to steal a base. Running from interview to interview to interview. Running with his siblings as a kid in the neighborhoods of Havana. Running with a dream to make it to the Major Leagues.

Throughout his life so far, the idea of running with a purpose, both literally and figuratively, has played a huge role in Diaz' story.

"I prepare myself psychologically as I have to properly adjust to the time of the pitcher," said Diaz. "It is something that I have in my blood. I really like running. I really like being agile on the bases, with the bat, stealing bases, or in any situation."

Speed runs in the family, as well. Diaz is one of three boys that complete the family of five. Athletics were everywhere growing up. While one brother played basketball, the other brother followed in his father's footsteps to the track.

"They didn't continue due to their injuries and other things," said Diaz. "I really like soccer, basketball and volleyball, but what I liked the most was baseball. My dad used to be a sprinter, but I wanted to play baseball. That's it. I developed a lot and my dad helped me in that area."

Within the city of Havana, Diaz grew up in the neighborhood of Playa, just southwest of the city center. As the name translates directly in Spanish, the neighborhood sits on the coastline under the Caribbean sun.

"La Habana is the capital of Cuba, one of the best areas of Cuba," said Diaz. "I lived and grew up in Playa with all my family. I had very good experiences when I was a kid with my dad and my mom. I used to watch many (MLB) games, so (that) excited me more to play ball and my passion for baseball increased."

With the dream in hand, Diaz and his dad took to working on becoming the best.

"I wanted to continue and continue, and I kept striving until I reached my dreams," said Diaz. "It was a day when I was a kid, sitting at my dad's feet. I will never forget watching a ball game. My dad started teaching me (and) he started to tell me more about the game. I started to like it and I kept advancing. He kept helping me (with) the concept of baseball. Up to now, I have reached all of the goals and I have been able to give him and my family happiness."

With all the scouting reports and write-ups on media outlets across the United States, one aspect you might not read about is Diaz' determination and drive. It has been a presence since early in his playing career.

"When I played for Industriales (Cuban National Series), I was one of the best hitters of the league," said Diaz. "I was very excited, very happy and I had a lot of will. I thought to myself, 'I can play in any league because I can feel it and my dad supported me.' He always used to tell me that I was going to be one of the best ball players from Cuba and in any part of the world. So, I decided to continue my career.

"(My parents) have always followed me everywhere. They have always supported me. They have always been with me in the good and in the bad, and they are always going to be there for me, supporting me."

That support has been crucial to Diaz' success up to this point of his career.

On November 21, 2015, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed the just-turned 19-year-old to a minor league contract.

"My life changed," said Diaz. "The Dodgers were very interested in me and (when) I signed that contract, I was very happy as my parents were, and that made me stand up more for it. Honestly, I was just really happy, being able to step into the United States. I would have never imagined stepping into the United States. Once I got here, I started growing (as a ballplayer) in Arizona and I felt very comfortable and secure of myself."

The political nature of the relationship between the United States and Cuba is well-documented. For potential MLB players hailing from the island nation, it is not a simple matter as jumping on an international flight from Havana to Miami or beyond.

It may not be quite as challenging as several decades ago, but the trip for Diaz took slightly longer than the 70-minute flight across the Straits of Florida.

"There was someone that paid attention to me and that helped me jump from Cuba to the Dominican Republic (via Ecuador)," said Diaz. "I made it to the Dominican (and) I was there for 11 months. I played for La Alianza, which was like an (academy) of Cubans, all mixed together so that scouts could watch us. Then, I was able to develop and fly to the United States."

Hopping from plane to plane to three different countries on two different continents as an 18-year-old---all for a potential opportunity to be noticed by a scout?

"Leaving my country so that I could reach my dreams and keep moving forward was a very tough experience," said Diaz. "The Cuban goes through many obstacles in order to be able to reach their dreams. In my case, I had a normal experience. I had several trips before I could make it to the Dominican Republic so that scouts could watch me play (and) so I could make it to the United States and play for a team."

Aside from signing with the Dodgers, there was another happy ending to this tale. Diaz' parents also made the journey to the United States, moving to Miami to support their son.

It was an unforgettable experience. I couldn't believe it," said Diaz. "I was very happy because that (was my soul's desire to have) my parents (follow). Just imagine, without parents one doesn't feel well. At least in my case, I would give my life for my parents."

In the end, his parents are why Diaz is where he is. After long stretches of running and striving for his dreams, the outfielder has made it to Bowie. The colors have changed from blue to orange, but that noticeable drive is ever-present.

"My dreams are very big," said Diaz "The truth is (that) I want to make it to the big leagues and help that team win and give it all on the field, but it is like a necessity.

"The dream of any Latin player that wants to play (in the United States) and give it all and maintain themselves (is) so his family can be proud of himself. I am never going to decide that I am going to stop playing because this is the profession that I like."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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