There is an air of confidence in the voice of Willy Diaz that you just can’t escape.
It’s probably an easy mindset to have after the 18-year-old signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins as an undrafted free agent.
But don’t mistake it for cockiness. It’s more of an underdog scrappiness that comes out when he boldly states that “you will know” who he is in a couple of years.
A native of the Dominican Republic, the 5-foot-10 infielder moved to Alberta with his mother just four years ago, calling Edmonton home. His baseball prowess had garnered a lot of attention, but in a crazy series of events documented by Canadian Baseball Network’s Bob Elliott, Diaz ended up suiting up for the Prairie Baseball Academy (PBA) in Lethbridge.
“Willy has all the tools to be a big leaguer,” PBA coach Todd Hubka tweeted. “He just needs more reps at the plate.”
Diaz takes that to heart, admitting that the work has just begun. He also loves that Hubka pushed him as hard as he did to prove the naysayers wrong.
“If he takes the work ethic he learned at PBA to the Twins, he will have a long professional career,” Hubka concluded.
Diaz will also be joining fellow Edmonton-area product LaRon Smith in the Twins system, something he is excited for as he says they have known each other for a couple of years.
We talked about the signing and more with Diaz in a recent episode of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast and here is the full transcription of that conversation.
Q: Let’s start off with the big news here about signing with the Minnesota Twins. What was it like from your perspective to sign on the dotted line?
A: Oh man, it was my dream come true, you know? I have been working so hard to get to this point and then hard work pays off.
Q: Talk about the process. How long has Minnesota been showing interest for and how did this news all come about?
A: Yeah, they’ve been talking to me since I was in high school. They told me that they wanted to see me play at a higher level. They were like “we know you’re good, but we just want to see at the college level where people can throw hard” you know, and the competition. That was it.
Q: Were there any other teams that showed interest?
A: Yeah, a couple. The San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals.
We are rivals on the diamond, but part off the @CCBaseballConf family off of it, and the UFV Cascades congratulate @PrairieBaseball star Willy Diaz on signing a contract with the Minnesota @twins organization. Best of luck in pro ball Willy! We are rooting for you. pic.twitter.com/f6xumY2okt
— UFV Cascades Baseball (CCBC) (@ufvbaseball) June 25, 2020
Q: What made you believe Minnesota was the right fit for you?
A: Honestly, I just wanted to play baseball. For me, it doesn’t matter if I go to the Yankees or Boston, I just want to play baseball. That’s my dream.
Q: Talk a little bit about that dream and the journey in baseball. How did that love of baseball begin for you?
A: Oh, all the time. When I was, like, seven years old, my dad was watching baseball all the time. He was like, “You don’t know baseball?” and I said, “No dad, what is it?” Then we started watching baseball together and I just fell in love with it. He bought me a baseball glove and then we played catch and I thought, “You know what? This is pretty cool!” I loved it!
Q: Do you remember the moment when you realized that this was something you wanted to do for as long as you can?
A: Oh yeah. Like I said, when I was seven years old, I was like “I want to be a professional baseball player.” Because, you know, in the Dominican, if you’re a baseball player, that’s the dream. Everyone wants to be a baseball player down there. I was like, you know what, I want to do that, too.
Q: What brought you up to Alberta?
A: My mom. She wanted a better future for me, a better life. In the Dominican, if you’re not in school, then you’re selling drugs and that kind of stuff. She doesn’t want that for me, so she brought me here.
— The Canadian Baseball Network (@CDNBaseballNet) June 25, 2020
Q: Did it worry you at all knowing you were coming up to Canada, where we don’t necessarily have the longest baseball season, thanks to winter?
A: Yeah, but I wasn’t afraid because it was a different country. New culture, new people, I didn’t know the language, so it was a challenge. When we got here, I wondered if I was going to make it. But I was just going to push myself and see what I can do.
Q: Obviously you’ve had some success. You’ve been in some big events, like the Tournament-12 in Toronto. Any highlights that stick out for you so far?
A: The first time I went to T-12, I didn’t do very well. I remember we had two runners on base and I was hitting. The tying run was at second and they struck me out and we lost the game. I promised myself that would not happen again. It would NOT happen again. In my second year, I had the same opportunity. I took a timeout, took a deep breath and I was like, you know what, this is my moment. This is it. I’m going to hit the ball no matter what. Whether it’s high, a ball or a strike, I’m going to hit the ball no matter what. And then I hit it and we won the game. I was like – I did it. You know, I finally did it.
Willy Diaz plays HERO for Team Alberta as they walk off BC on Diaz two-out RBI single up the middle.
Diaz was 2-3 on the day and also ran a 6.59 – 60 earlier in the week. Uncommitted 2019 Grad with tools.
— PBR Alberta (@PBR_Alberta) September 17, 2018
Q: That must have given you a boatload of confidence, rising above that adversity to come back and show that you belong with some of the top players.
A: Oh yeah. The pitcher was looking at me dead-eye. And I was like, “You know what dude, I’m better than you and you’re going to know it. I’m better than you and I’m going to hit the ball no matter what.”
Q: You’re now living in the Edmonton area but you also traveled down south to play with the Prairie Baseball Academy. Tell us a bit about those experiences and what they’ve meant to you as you’ve gone through your baseball journey.
A: They mean a lot, you know. They taught me a lot. They taught me how to play baseball the right way. They taught me not to think too much, just do it. You know you can do it, so just do it. You don’t need to be nervous. You just have to believe in yourself. If you work hard, it’s going to pay off.
Willy has all the tools to be a big leaguer just needs more reps at the plate. If he takes the work ethic he has learned at PBA to the Twins he will have a long professional career. Congrats to Willy his family special thanks toCarl for helping Willy pursue his dream!#twins#pba pic.twitter.com/pdqOUC6ZUr
— Todd Hubka (@toddhubka) June 20, 2020
Q: You’ve seen the tweet from your coach, Todd Hubka. What does it mean to you to see those words said about you?
A: It means a lot. It means a lot because I remember my first day at PBA. He was the one who explained to me like, “Listen, here you better work.” He said, “You’re not a kid anymore, you can’t be like ‘I’m Willy’ blah blah blah. Here, you have to work your – you know – off if you want to be someone. Because I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to make a name for yourself.” And then man, he pushed me. I’m telling you, he got the best of me.
Q: What was it that he did to light that fire? What was it that really drove you to be as good as you could possibly be?
A: He pushed me. He got into me, you know what I mean? He’s the type that could piss me off and I was like, you know what coach, I’m going to show you. He really pissed me off sometimes and I liked that. I liked it and I loved it.
Q: Fair to say that you kind of like having a chip on your shoulder and want to prove everyone wrong, in a sense?
A: Yeah, I remember they thought I was over-rated. I was like, “You know what, I’m going to show you you’re wrong.” And that pissed me off, I’m not going to lie to you. I was like, “I’m going to outwork you and you’ll see what I’m about.”
— PBR Ontario (@PBR_Ontario) September 14, 2018
Q: Who else do you give credit to as far as being able to grow your game to the point that it is now?
A: I credit my parents. They talked to me. They would be like, “Listen, you have to work. We believe in you but you have to work.” I see my mom, she works Monday to Friday, she works hard and I want to help her. I want to get a better life for her in my dream. And my dad, too. I want to do it for a better life for my parents.
Q: That’s amazing. What was their reaction when you told them you signed with the Twins?
A: Oh man, my mom, she was jumping. She was hugging me, kissing me, just jumping around. “Oh my god, oh my god!” (laughs) And then my dad, I called him and he was like, “Are you serious?” I said I was. And he was like, “No way, you’re kidding me,” and I said, “Dad, I’m not.” And he was happy, too.
Q: I can only imagine the sheer joy. I’d imagine you also called a few friends as well to let them know you’re up to some pretty big things.
A: Oh yeah. I called my friends back in the Dominican. I called my best friend, I called my family, I called everyone man. I was like, “Hey, guess what? I’m a professional baseball player now.”
— TBJ Baseball Academy (@BlueJaysAcademy) June 22, 2020
Q: So where do you go from here? What’s the plan as far as trying to make a name for yourself with the Twins?
A: The plan is I’m going to work hard now. Like, I worked hard at PBA but now I’m going to work twice as hard. You will know who I am in a couple of years. I’m telling you that now.
Q: Love that! Final question for you, as always, what does the game of baseball mean to you?
A: It’s everything. It’s love, passion. It’s me. Baseball is me. I love the game. I don’t know how to explain it, but I love it. It means everything to me.