NAGUABO, Puerto Rico — Edwin Diaz remembers the fundraisers.
He remembers the way his mom set up softball tournaments to help pay for him and his team’s showcases as a kid.
He remembers how people in his neighborhood would spend money at the shop adjacent to the field here, just to give him a chance in a profession where everyone wants to make it but almost no one does.
The Mets closer was around 15 when people started thinking he could be the rare success story, he told Newsday — the kid who’s talented enough and dedicated enough and lucky enough to make it to baseball’s biggest stage.
And when he made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners seven years later, “I knew all those people were watching me.”
He was their son, after all — one of the prides of a tight-knit town: young and humble, with a dominant pitching arsenal that was mature and downright disrespectful.
So, when the family was in pain — when Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, leaving Naguabo drowned in water it couldn’t drink, and powerless for what would end up being around seven months — the son returned.
Family is there to celebrate the triumphs like major league debuts, of course, but at its core, it’s built to support you through the tragedies.
“The sky looked like all of Puerto Rico was burning down,” he said while driving through the streets of the neighborhood where so much of his family still lives. “It was really, really bad … It was really sad. When I got here [about a week after the hurricane], I was living in an apartment and I couldn’t live there because it didn’t have electricity and the [complex] didn’t let the people have generators. So, I came back here to live with my parents for about a month because they had a generator here.”
What Diaz did then has been well-documented throughout the years. He worked with then-Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina to put together fundraisers. He went around delivering drinking water. In collaboration with Major League Baseball, he slowly helped bring electricity to the region. When a swarm of earthquakes hit Puerto Rico in 2019 and 2020, he came back again.
He’s often made it clear, his father, Edwin Diaz Garcia said, that when the community needs him, Diaz and his brother, Alexis, a pitcher for the Reds, will always come back.
“God has blessed them by allowing them to make the big leagues and we’re very proud of the commitment they made,” Garcia said in Spanish, shortly after watching his son distribute baseball, softball and T-ball gear to youth teams in the area. “They haven’t stopped coming to visit.”
This is why, in case you’re wondering.
This is why Diaz chose to play for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic last March. This is why he said last Tuesday that, if healthy and able when the tournament comes back in 2026, he’d want to do it again. This is why, despite the catastrophic injury he sustained to his knee while celebrating on the mound then, he doesn’t have the type of crippling regret that could have unmoored a complicated rehab process.
It paid off: He said he’s 100% and expects to have no restrictions come spring training.
“Representing Puerto Rico, representing our country is something big,” he said. “This community has been together for a long time. We support each family here. They support our family.”
Diaz has signed every manner of autograph. He’s posed for selfies. He’s a dad, though, so he makes sure the kids take their turn. But, again, he’s a dad, so he makes sure no one feels left out.
There are hundreds of the kids at this field in the Daguao neighborhood of Naguabo, and most of them are from teams that Diaz funds. He’s there giving out catching equipment and overstuffed Wilson duffel bags full of bats, balls, helmets and gloves.
It all takes almost two hours.
It’s part of a collaboration with the Amazin’ Mets Foundation, the team’s charitable arm, Pitch In For Baseball and Softball, which provides gear for teams around the world, and Little League Caribbean.
This trip to Puerto Rico stops at three towns — Naguabo, Francisco Lindor’s hometown of Caguas, and Guanica, which has been especially hard hit by natural disaster. It’s a $75,000 investment that benefits 50 teams in one day, and part of the $323,000 investment in equipment the Amazin' Mets Foundation has made so far this year.
Throughout the full day trip, Carlos Pagan, director of Little League Caribbean, sits shotgun in the van while wearing a Roberto Clemente jersey, helping coordinate it all. No job is too big or too small.
“This is important,” he said in Caguas, where Molina is taking fielding practice with the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League team he manages. “A lot of kids are lost now because ... they don’t want to go to the field. This equipment, it’ll help them go and play ball somewhere. That’s a problem that we have here and in the States, too. The parents rather have the kids play PlayStation, not having them in the baseball park and exercising. I think this is a way to help in that cause.”
Javier Valentin, the former catcher for the Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays and Cincinnati Reds is also here. Seeing guys like Diaz and Lindor come back, “that’s huge because in the past, we didn’t have a type of hero like that,” said Valentin, who was born a little more than two years after Clemente, Puerto Rico’s primary baseball ambassador, died. “We didn’t have anything like that. This is big, that these young kids got that equipment. I think that’s a big support for them and the family, too.”
Lindor couldn’t make it on this particular day, but he’s well represented. His jersey is everywhere, and he’s well aware of the responsibility that comes with that. With the holidays fast approaching, some parents are cash strapped, so gifts of equipment help ease a burden, Lindor said in a phone interview .
“It means a lot to me” to know how the kids feel about it, he said. “I’m happy to hear them tell me that I’m an idol or a role model, or someone who’s doing exactly what they want to do … Meeting someone that comes from the same place, who probably went to a very similar school and played on the same field — [maybe] that makes them feel they can [live a major league dream], too.”
Lindor's agent, David Meter, said he’s seen the shortstop’s impact firsthand. Lindor, like Diaz, was heavily involved in providing aid in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
“It’s pretty funny at times” to see kids’ reactions to him, Meter said. “To see their eyes light up. They come to him and either thank him for something or tell him how much he’s their favorite player. You can tell they really look up to him as a role model.”
'I WANT THEM TO GROW UP LIKE I GREW UP'
Diaz Garcia will happily talk to reporters, but he has a condition: Hospitality isn’t dead, and you have to eat first.
It’s pollo en salsa blanca, rice, mashed potatoes, salad and a lot more. He hands out the plastic plates and throws them out when it’s done. He’s got a quick smile and an almost mischievous way about him, and his love for his sons comes through his pores. His wife, Beatriz Laboy Méndez — the mom who put together all those fundraisers — is wearing a split jersey: half Mets for Edwin and half Reds for Alexis.
But despite the joviality, it’s clear Edwin’s injury took an emotional toll. Finally — finally — his dad got to watch his boys play together, only to end it all wondering if the best closer in baseball would even pitch again.
Edwin wouldn’t let doubt fester, though.
“The person who was injured — Edwin — was the one who gave us the strength to carry on,” he said. “It was good to see his strength as he told us, 'Let’s keep going. Nothing has happened. We’re going to recover.' That helped us overcome this obstacle a lot.”
Both Diaz and his dad said he probably could have pitched last season and doctors were very pleased with the recent test results he got in New York.
Until it’s time to report to Port St. Lucie, Florida, for spring training, Diaz will stay in Puerto Rico, working with his personal trainer and sending dispatches back to the Mets. He likes having his sons here — Gahel, 7, and Sebastian, 2 — and he and his wife, Nashaly, are expecting a third boy in March.
“I want them to grow up like I grew up — running in the streets, riding bicycles and doing all those things,” he said. “As a kid, we had a lot of kids growing up together. We were a bunch of kids playing around and joking around … Almost all those guys [still] live here. If they don’t live here, they come here almost every weekend because their parents live here.”
Like the good son of Naguabo that he is, Diaz does the same. He tries to spend the weekends with his parents in the offseason. His grandmother, Iris, lives down the block and waves when he passes by. Her house is all but an art installation — decorated lavishly for the holidays. He points out where his great aunts live. A group of kids line the streets and stare into the van he’s riding in to catch a glimpse, even though they just saw him on the field.
“You can see this town is really humble,” he said. “We’re coming from the bottom.”
Maybe. But the community made sure he and Alexis didn’t stay there, and Diaz has consistently paid the favor right back.