There's a 30-year-old rookie in New York this weekend, playing for the Cincinnati Reds. You might see him around town with his wife, Anny, his mother, Ramona, and his seven-week-old son, Jose Alejandro, taking in the sights of a dream it took 13 years to realize.
"I want my wife to see New York," the rookie said. "I want my son to see New York. I called my wife and told her, and she just started crying. Yeah, we've been waiting for that for a long time."
It's startling to consider that perception, and not ability, might have prevented it all from happening much sooner.
That's what happens when people call you Jumbo Diaz, and you once weighed 347 pounds.
"I've had that nickname ever since I played for the Dodgers," Diaz said, holding a mostly-eaten orange, as we stood in the hallway in front of the Reds clubhouse Friday. "Because we had two Jose Diazes on the team, and every time we threw in the bullpen, we needed to know who the manager wanted. So George Cooper, the pitching coach, told me, you're gonna be Jumbo Diaz from now on. And from 2002 to now, everybody call me Jumbo."
From 2002 to now, Diaz has also regularly gotten minor league hitters out. Sure, he had some mitigating circumstances. He had Tommy John surgery in 2004. Another procedure, to put a screw in his elbow, cost him the 2008 season.
But Diaz posted a sub-2 ERA in 2010 at two minor league levels, a 1.41 ERA for Double-A Bowie in 2011. His ERA at Triple-A Louisville in 2013 was 1.66, and he'd lowered that to 1.35 in 2014 before finally getting promoted. He belonged to the Dodgers, the Rangers, the Orioles, the Pirates and the Reds.
So what took so long?
When I asked Diaz's manager, Bryan Price, whether it surprised him to see someone with Diaz's talent fail to get a major league chance, he said it did. "I never had a chance to see Jumbo pitch until spring training. I had heard about him. I knew he was in the organization. He played for a lot of teams, he threw hard, and he was a huge man. And so, the weight loss, when I saw him, he didn't look abnormally large. There are some guys at 265, 270 pounds who are out there. But to think that he could throw that hard, throw that many strikes, have three quality pitches and not have pitched in the big leagues was unusual to me. I didn't get it."
But there, within Price's answer, is all that has changed about Jumbo Diaz, the first Jumbo in the major leagues since Jumbo Nash last played for the Phillies in 1972. He no longer looks "abnormally large."
Diaz didn't add a pitch in 2014. He's always thrown hard, with reasonable walk rates and strikeouts around one per inning. He didn't fine-tune command of his four-seam or two-seam offerings, both of which come in around 98 miles per hour on average, or his slider at 90, changeup at 88.
He did lose about 70 pounds. It's been, unequivocally, a great thing for his career and his life. But it's fair to wonder if perception, rather than anything that kept him from a viable career as a relief pitcher, held him back until last month.
"I do think that there's a certain expectation that we have for our players to be in shape," Price said in his office at Yankee Stadium Friday, when I asked him if weight alone should be a barrier to major league entry. "To be capable of doing what everyone else is doing. You hate to compartmentalize each position and say, 'Alright, you have to condition, you don't have to condition, you have to eat right, you don't have to eat right.' I think certainly there's some body consciousness that goes with that.
"I can't say if that held him back or not. I have no idea. All I know is that we saw a guy who was greatly committed to being ready, to being in shape when he came to spring training for us in 2014. And it impressed us greatly."
What's fascinating about this response by the Reds is just how closely it dovetails with what Diaz planned. He fully believes that he could have been promoted in, say, 2010, and consistently gotten major league hitters out. And it's hard to argue -- exactly how hitters would have feasted on a pair of elite fastballs, a slider and a changeup he commands simply because Diaz reached some arbitrary number on the scale is hard to fathom.
He also knew, as he turned 30, that he might not have many more opportunities to catch the eye of an organization. And the typical way other pitchers do it -- you know, the big fastball, the strong command -- well, that wasn't getting it done for Diaz.
He'd tried to lose weight earlier in his career, but saw his velocity drop, and feared the same thing would happen again. (Imagine, Diaz thought fastball velocity would have greater impact on his future big league prospects than pants size.) But with options running out, he gave it another shot, with an organization that seemed to value him.
"I wanted to sign with the Reds, because they'd seen me," Diaz said. "I told my agent, though we had offers from other teams. And when I got to spring training, I didn't want to be seen as the heavy player anymore. I have to start here -- because I have good numbers in the minor leagues, but I wasn't in good shape, and I didn't get the call up. I've been right here, working hard -- but now I've put my body into position.
"Many people have said, 'Why didn't you do that before?' And I said, when you were a younger guy, you learn later -- well if I'd done that before, maybe I would have made the team. So I got in my mind -- I've been working hard. But I need an opportunity to pitch in the major leagues. I'm 30 -- I want to pitch in the big leagues, because I've been working hard my whole career. And finally, I got the call."
That's not to say it was easy. Too often, weight loss is treated in sportswriting like rehabbing a knee injury. There's huge psychological components to losing weight -- usually, the surrounding environment isn't the reason you injured your knee in the first place.
You also can't be tempted to wreck your knee rehab just by opening the fridge at 3 a.m.
Diaz went to see a doctor that September -- he remembers the precise date, September 23 -- once the Louisville season ended, and was told it would be best if he could drop from his personal high of 347 pounds down to a more manageable 278-280. Ideal would be 260.
But the offseason meant returning home to La Romana, in the Dominican Republic, and to the cooking of Ramona, and Anny, to postgame spreads and to peer pressure to eat.
"My mom cooked healthy for me," Diaz said, smiling. "A lot of fruit, of salads. We kept away from the fried rice, the chicken. She'd cooked for my brother, like regular. And she cooked for me, healthy, just for me. And my wife, too. I told her, you can eat whatever you want, but I can't, because I've got something on my mind. I want to get ready. I don't want to be like one week eating healthy, and then the next week, I start eating rice."
But the diet, and the plan to be noticed, both worked for Diaz. He was one of the final cuts in spring training, but Price told him to stay ready. And when he got that call in June, he quickly summoned his family from the Dominican Republic, wanting to share the good fortune with those who'd stuck with him as he battled for more than a decade for his chance.
"Before spring training, I told me wife, this year is my year," Diaz said. "I just felt so comfortable, that it would happen."
That's not to say getting promoted was the end of the journey for Diaz, who thinks he can play at least another five years the way he feels. And after a shaky debut, Diaz has allowed a single run in his last 7 1/3 innings, striking out eight and pitching to a 1.23 ERA.
He's not interested in striking a veteran pose, despite his advanced age for a rookie.
"I know I faced good hitters, all the time in Triple-A ball," Diaz said. "But other pitchers, I asked them, how to do, how to pitch to that guy. I ask a lot of questions. I've been like 13 years in the minor leagues, yes that's a lot in the minor leagues. But I'm the rookie, I have to ask them many questions."
His experience allowed Price to immediately pitch him in key situations.
"I imagine over the course of those 13 years, he's learned a lot," Price said. "Beyond the fact that he's reached the major league level, and he's excelling here, is all the lessons he's learned. Most people don't play 13 years of professional baseball before reaching the major leagues... I think the fact that he's pitched as a closer in the minor leagues, and been comfortable in that role, made me feel more comfortable about bringing him into close games in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
"And he didn't seem to make too much out of the situation. He understands that his game is predicated on good stuff, throwing strikes, and he trusts it. It's not just the velocity that's made him successful."
Diaz said it isn't particularly hard to stick with what's gotten him to Cincinnati, on or off the field. For one thing, it's a lot easier to find healthy food in a major league clubhouse than it was for years, trying to stretch a meager minor league per diem while taking long bus rides and spending most of the day at the ballpark.
"It's a lot of fruit, and salads," Diaz said of his daily regimen. "I just had some grilled chicken. A lot of water. Watermelon. And the size, I try to keep small. Because if that gets bigger, and bigger, then I could get back to where I was. And I stay away from the fries, and the bread.
"And I'm eating even better now, because my wife and my mom are here, cooking for me on my off days, cooking healthy food."
His motivation is simple: his dream, and who he's doing it for.
"It's everybody's dream, to sign the major league contract," Diaz said. "I always felt I had to do it for my mom. Then with my wife, like I had to work double. And now, with my son, two months old soon, feels like I have to work triple maybe."
Diaz said he doesn't plan to change how he eats, not just for the remainder of his career, but for the rest of his life.
But he can't help but think about how, if he'd been accurately perceived as the hard-working pitcher who battled back from multiple elbow injuries, instead of merely getting judged by his waistline, that he could have been playing in the major leagues for years already.
"Maybe if I come in this year 330, 340, maybe I pitch one, two more years in Triple-A and my career is done," Diaz said. "But I come in this way, and everybody knows I can compete. It's like I said to my wife: now I got the call up, now I've got to work double. Because I don't want to go back to the minor leagues. 13 years in the minor leagues, and now I feel like I can be here, if I do the job.
"You know sometimes, you have people close to you who tell you, 'You can do this, keep working hard, I trust you, I believe in you.' And sometimes you want to find the people who told you, 'I don't know why you are working so hard, because now you're 30, and you're never going to make the big leagues.' And what I tell them in my mind is, 'Now I'm here.' I want to show the people who said I could never be in the big leagues that I can be there."
He may look different, to himself, his family, the talent evaluators of major league baseball. But Diaz doesn't plan a nickname change-even his family now calls him Jumbo.
"Yeah, I'll be Jumbo for the rest of my life," Diaz said. "Because when I got to spring training, everybody said 'Wow, I don't know what to call you now, because no more Jumbo!' Now, you're gonna be Slimbo.
"I said you know what, you can call me whatever you want -- Jumbo, Diaz, anything. I'm good with any names. But now when people go to the games, and they say 'Now pitching, Jumbo Diaz.' So that's gonna be my name for my whole life."