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Back with Jays, Diaz savours every major league moment

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The Canadian Press
3/20/2014 1:37:11 PM
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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jonathan Diaz is easy to spot in the Blue Jays' clubhouse. Just look for a big smile atop a compact five-foot-nine, 155-pound body.

The 28-year-old Florida native is also hard to miss on the field -- an elegant, mobile shortstop with a slick glove.

A career .230 hitter in the minors, Diaz is not likely to stick with a major league club that already has a superstar at shortstop in Jose Reyes, the versatile Ryan Goins at second base and Maicer Izturis as a utility infielder.

But his skills are appreciated and have been on display again in the Blue Jays' organization after a one-year stint with the Boston Red Sox and former Jays manager John Farrell.

"I'd heard about them," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Diaz's fielding talents.

"Everybody's always said you're not going to find a better shortstop or defender, period. You can put him anywhere out there and he's definitely shown that this spring."

Diaz has appeared in the infield and outfield this spring, often as a late inning replacement. He has turned heads with a nifty double play and scored the 10th-inning game-winner on some aggressive base-running in a 4-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles last Sunday.

As of Wednesday, he was hitting .077 with one hit in 13 at-bats this spring. He knows defence is his ticket in baseball.

"I've always love to be out there making plays and doing acrobatic things," he said. "Luckily that's kept me in the game for as long as it has."

He was given No. 1 to wear by the Jays, the same number as former great Tony Fernandez.

"Its a honour to be wearing that number," he said. "He was an unbelievable shortstop."

A 12th-round pick -- 360th overall -- by the Jays in the 2006 draft out of North Carolina State, Diaz is happy to be back in the Toronto fold after his year away.

"It feels like I never left," he said. "It feels like home. I was here for seven years and then I took a little hiatus with the Red Sox for a year."

Boston had its moments, however. He was called up to the majors for the first time, "which was amazing," he said.

He saw action in five games, with four at-bats. He had no hits but scored two runs.

"I was there for a week ... Fortunately I'm going to get a World Series ring and all that so I'm really excited about that. It was a good time," he said.

Coincidentally, Diaz's debut in the majors came against Toronto and he threw out Reyes from third in Toronto's first at-bat. He also scored the winning run against the Jays.

These days his locker is just down the row from Reyes in a largely Spanish-speaking neighbourhood of the clubhouse. With a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother, he grew up with Spanish as his first language.

"This is my corner. These are my people," he said with a grin.

Diaz says he tries not to think of where he might end up. The goal is the big leagues and the plan is to play as well as possible.

After that, que sera sera.

"Make sure you're healthy and just try to be ready when the time comes," Diaz said by way of summary. "I'm just out there trying to show I can help the team in any way possible."

Away from the field, Diaz is married with three daughters -- 10, eight and 16 months.

The family makes its home in Dunedin with his wife and daughters joining Diaz "wherever I'm at," when school breaks for the summer.

"By now, they're used to it ... It's a crazy fun life," he said.

But it has not always been fun for Diaz.

In 2011, he was one of the final cuts out of the Jays' major league camp. He went to double-A ball and then triple-A in Las Vegas.

"I was doing really well," he said. "I went to have dinner, took a cab and woke up in a hospital."

There was an accident and Diaz suffered a concussion, lost some hearing and his two front teeth, among other injuries. His wife, then his fiancee, was on the side of the cab that got hit and took the brunt of the impact.

She suffered broken ribs, a torn spleen, separated shoulder and cuts.

"It was pretty ugly," he said. "But luckily we're healthy now."

The injuries also took a toll on his playing career.

"That took me out of it for a couple of months," he said. "That window, I felt like, was a good chance of being called up at the time."

Two false front teeth have not impacted Diaz's smile. He seems to savour every baseball moment.

Baseball bats (Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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