When Isan Diaz was born, his father vowed to turn him into an elite baseball player.
You see, when the Springfield Central junior shortstop was born, Raul Diaz left Wallace (Ala.) Community College --- a powerhouse in southern junior collegiate circuits --- where he, himself, was a star shortstop and the focus of professional scouts.
All these years later, Raul’s vow is still holding true. His son is one of the top players in Western Massachusetts and among the fastest rising juniors in the state.
“He left a little too early,” Isan Diaz said. “From there, he vowed to help make me into an amazing ball player. I’ve loved the game forever.”
That love and passion for the game is seen clearly on the field --- and in the scorebook.
Diaz burst onto the scene last year with a fantastic sophomore season that earned him a spot among the top players in Western Massachusetts. He was named to The Republican’s first team All-Scholastic and picked as a Super 7 selection this spring --- a lofty preseason designation.
As a sophomore, he hit .344 with three home runs, only striking out six times all year. His presence in the No. 3 hole in the Golden Eagles’ lineup and slick fielding helped power Central to a surprising upset of top-seeded Cathedral in last year’s sectional tournament. The Cinderella-type run nearly extended with a tough loss to eventual champion Westfield in the semifinals.
This year, Diaz expects his team to go even farther.
“I expect we can win Western Mass. That’s what we’re aiming for,” he said. “We’ve seen what we’re up against and know what we’re dealing with. Last year just made us hungry.”
The Golden Eagles are 7-6 and currently on the "up" portion of the roller coaster ride head coach Mike Donato calls the season. Winner of its last three games, it’s been a year full of streaks for Central.
The season opened on a tough streak for Central and for Diaz. The returning All-Scholastic and the key to the Golden Eagles’ lineup faced a five-game suspension for academic ineligibility. He had failed one class and his grade point average dropped below the required minimum.
Central, a sleeper pick to make noise at the Division 1 level, started the season 1-4.
“I’m not going to lie,” Diaz said. “I was very upset at myself. I didn’t think that would come upon me. I didn’t think I’d get to that level and hurt my team.”
Diaz took the hit well and showed a growth in mental maturity, according to his coach.
“Those five games mattered so much to him,” said Donato, a former player at UMass and a second-year head coach for Central. “Since he’s come back, he’s done what he’s supposed to so he won’t get baseball taken away from him again.”
Donato has seen a major improvement in Diaz’s leadership skills. Always a force at the plate and on the field, Diaz seems to have made a jump mentally.
“I talked with my coaches and principals a lot. They said that it didn’t have to take me out of the game completely,” he said. “To see my teammates play and lose and to know I could have been a big factor in the game really bothered me.”
Present at practices throughout his suspension, Diaz apologized to his teammates and vowed to make amends.
“I knew I was the leader,” he said. “I told them all that even though I wasn’t on the field, I was still there with them. I apologized for my lack of focus and told them I’d help us all pull it together.”
Upon Diaz’s return, Central went on a tear. The Eagles won three straight, including wins over perennial contenders Cathedral and Westfield. Most recently, the Golden Eagles have won three straight and are three wins away --- with seven games remaining and a favorable schedule --- from a tournament berth.
“We’re trying to win Western Mass.,” Diaz said. “From losing in the semfinals last year, we’ve been motivated since. We want to come back stronger and win it all.”
The Isan Diaz story started three years ago. He was an eighth grader at Springfield’s Renaissance Academy and showed plenty of promise.
In two seasons at Division 3 Renaissance, Diaz collected 40 hits, 24 RBI and three homers. He was told by coaches that he should consider looking at transferring to a different school, in order to gain maximum exposure in hopes of landing a scholarship to play at the collegiate level.
Diaz applied to Suffield Academy, but was too late in the application process to receive financial aid. He applied to Cathedral, but all financial aid went to the students impacted by the 2011 tornado. He was urged to try again with Cathedral but would have been forced to sit out a year, according to the MIAA’s transfer rules. That wasn’t an option.
“I talked with my Dad and said there’s no way missing baseball for a year was an option,” he said.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Diaz landed at Central and instantly became a force. He played so well last year that he was noticed by a coach in the New England Ruffnecks organization. Last summer, Diaz began playing for the Ruffnecks and enjoyed the ‘time of his life’ traveling the country and facing superior competition.
“I knew going to Central was the right decision,” Diaz said. “If I didn’t go there, I wouldn’t have been able to play in front of the right people and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play with the Ruffnecks.”
The opportunity, of course, is key for Diaz and his scholarship prospects. The more eyes that see him, the better his chances of playing Division 1 college baseball become.
Diaz isn’t afraid of hard work. He’s also not comfortable with his skills. He admits that he’s best at the plate. A line drive hitter, Diaz is learning to become more patient at the dish. He also knows that becoming stronger is crucial to becoming the best player he can be.
The 5-foot-10, 172-pound Diaz is hard at work improving his lower half with the hopes of remaining deadly at the plate and even lighter, swifter and more flexible on the basepaths and in the field.
“I’m definitely not as fast as I need to be,” he said. “I’m working on my lower body and want to get faster and more flexible to be able to move better out at shortstop.”
For Diaz, the opportunities are there. The hard work is to come and the vow --- made nearly 17 years ago --- is still in place.