Mets closer Edwin Diaz suffered a devastating injury in March while playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Now, Diaz said he’s almost ready to go as the Mets prepare for the 2024 season. NewsdayTV’s Laura Albanese reports. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

NAGUABO, PUERTO RICO — The Mets loved the video of him doing wind sprints in the sand here on the east coast of Puerto Rico, Edwin Diaz said on Tuesday afternoon. He just edges out his brother Alexis, his knee twisting easily and painlessly as he pivots.

He points out the steep hill he ran up last week, noting how his elderly grandmother painstakingly decorated the street with colorful tinsel archways.

It's all proof of what Diaz believes to be true: The devastating torn patellar tendon he suffered during March's World Baseball Classic is fully healed, his offseason routine is on track, he plans to have a completely normal spring training, and expects to return to form as the best closer in baseball.

And if the Mets would have had a whisper of a hope last September, he thinks the iconic trumpets that mark his entrance from the bullpen would have sounded. He would have pitched if needed.

“If spring training started tomorrow, I’d be 100% ready right now,” Diaz told Newsday. “I’ve got a lot of power in my leg. I’m ready to go.”

It’s hard not to believe him when he says it so resolutely on a sunny Tuesday afternoon near his childhood home, surrounded by verdant mountains and yawning palm trees that cover the area where he learned about baseball, its possibilities and the responsibility that comes with immense talent.

It’s an area, too, that was mostly underwater a little over six years ago after Hurricane Maria hit. Homes and lives were destroyed and there was no power for months, but when heartbreak ruled the region, Diaz didn’t take his burgeoning fame and run away. He lived with his parents for around a month while working with MLB to help restore the area.

So, a potentially catastrophic baseball injury? Yeah. He’s never not been optimistic.

“I threw eight or nine bullpens” at the tail end of last season, Diaz said after giving out equipment to over a dozen youth teams on the diamond where he grew up playing centerfield (his dad made him switch to pitching when he got a little older). “It was really good. My knee was feeling great [back then] and it’s feeling better right now. I was in New York last week doing some tests and they came back really, really good, so I’m really happy.”

'Emotionally destroyed'

Puerto Rico pitcher Edwin Diaz sits on the ground after...

Puerto Rico pitcher Edwin Diaz sits on the ground after being injured in the celebration after beating the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic in Miami on March 15, 2023. Credit: CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH/EP/CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

There are going to be skeptics, of course. Diaz, who hurt himself celebrating on the mound after Puerto Rico had ousted a powerhouse Dominican Republic team, suffered an injury so rarely seen in major-league pitchers that then Mets manager Buck Showalter consistently said there was no real blueprint to what a return would look like. That Puerto Rican team was the first time he and Alexis, two years his junior and a closer for the Reds, had ever played together, and when it happened, his baby brother wept openly.

Their dad, Edwin Diaz Garcia, said the rest of the family was watching in Miami. “The celebration lasted a minute,” he said in Spanish. And then? “Everyone was emotionally destroyed.”

And that just didn’t extend to his parents and wife; it also reverberated throughout Naguabo, where both Edwin and Alexis are known and revered.

The liquor store down the block from the baseball field has a giant mural dedicated to both, and Diaz says he owns most of the youth leagues that came down Tuesday for the equipment drop-off. Naguabo is a small fishing town with a population of around 26,000, and Diaz said that when new neighbors move in, they introduce themselves. When the town lost power after the hurricane, returning to the community was a matter of course: It took a lot of hands, but after around six months, electricity was slowly restored.

Diaz’s emotional steadiness, then and now, helped them all when he was hurt, his father said. The son’s message to family and the community that was like a family didn’t waver: He’d get his surgery and he’d come back as good as ever.

“He was the one who gave us the strength to carry on,” Diaz Garcia said. “He had the goal that before the [2023] season ended he was going to be ready in case the team needed him. He accomplished it and it was just bad luck that the team didn’t have a good year. By September, they were practically eliminated. Management decided he wouldn’t pitch, but he was ready.”

'My comfort is big'

Diaz said he’s not worried about his velocity. It’s high heat that routinely touches 100 mph and sets up one of the most crippling sliders in all of baseball, but his work late last season proved to him that it was still there, waiting for its chance. There was some question, too, about how he’d field his position, but he’s not concerned about that, either.

“My comfort is big,” he said. “I haven’t been doing that yet because we have a lot of time [and] we’re in December right now, so I have to do that maybe in February . . . But can I do it right now? Yes, I can do it 100%.”

Diaz has to know how much that means to the Mets, who were fully unmoored without him at the back end of the bullpen. It means a lot to his fellow Puerto Ricans, too.

He was being driven around his childhood neighborhood Tuesday and cheerfully pointed out where his relatives live, and how his grandmother, Iris, has decorated her house with every manner of twinkle light and nativity scene. (His two sons “love that” he said, and he loves that they get to grow up riding their bikes around the area like he did.)

When he gave out equipment — part of a collaboration with the Amazin’ Mets Foundation, the team’s charitable arm, and Pitch In For Baseball and Softball, a non-profit that provides supplies for children’s teams around the world — he made sure to take photos with groups of well over 100 kids. He spent more than 20 minutes standing on a street corner signing autographs under an unrelenting sun while wearing all black. When a staffer asked him if he wanted to go, he said no; he didn’t stop signing until there was no one left to sign for.

So, when he was asked about pitching for team Puerto Rico — a decision that some derided as too risky — he didn’t hesitate. There’s no Edwin Diaz without the community that bore him up — one, he said, that helped fund he and Alexis’ showcases when they were young and dreaming of the big leagues.

“We don’t have the chance to represent our country much,” he said. “Having that kind of tournament, for us, we feel really proud to represent our country. My injury just happened. I didn’t get hurt pitching. I got hurt celebrating. That can happen in my house. That can happen anywhere else. But I feel like if I had the chance to represent Puerto Rico again and I’m healthy, I would try to do it, because representing Puerto Rico, representing our country is something big.”

'The next Edwin Diaz'

You can see it in the kids whose eyes follow him wherever he walks. It’s in the “Team Sugar” jerseys they wear (it’s one of the teams he funds, christened with his nickname). There is, too, the devotion to Francisco Lindor, whose jersey is spotted all around Puerto Rico. Teams from his hometown of Caguas, about 20 miles away, were also gifted equipment as part of the 50 squads in three towns that received new softball, baseball and T-ball gear Tuesday.

“It’s great for the kids,” said Carlos Pagan, Little League Caribbean director. “These people want to be the next Edwin Diaz and to see him in a baseball park today means a lot to them.”

For Diaz Garcia, it’s proof his boys were raised with their values intact.

“As parents we feel very satisfied of the job they’ve done and the path they’ve chosen and how they’ve maintained their humility,” he said.

For him, spring training can’t come soon enough.

“It’ll be exciting because even though he’s already been in the big leagues for seven years, this year he was out of the major leagues and it made us anxious to see him again,” he said. “We’re anxious for spring training so we can visit him and he can help the Mets win a World Series.”

It's a big dream, especially in a year that's supposed to be retooling for 2025, but if anything, Diaz has taught the kids in this neighborhood that dreaming big is hardly a bad thing.

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