The New England Ruffnecks program is for players 13U to 18U who aspire to be collegiate baseball players. We speak very little about professional baseball, not because we do not like professional baseball, but because professional baseball happens for very few of us. Nonetheless, there are nearly 30 Ruffnecks alumni who have gone on to play professional baseball. None has yet made it to the Major Leagues. This is an occasion to speak about one Ruffnecks who is in pro ball.
Isan Diaz is a recent Ruffnecks alum who enjoyed a highly successful 2015 professional season. Isan is a Springfield, Massachusetts native who attended Central High School. He learned about the Ruffnecks in 2012 from one of his high school teachers, Dan Brookes, who then served as the Ruffnecks 18U coach. Dan Brookes continues to work with the Ruffnecks today, currently assisting with the 13U Fall Baseball program. Players can see him near the batting cage, working with hitters during the Sunday sessions. He is the “big guy.”
Homesick & Culture Shock
Isan Diaz and his family did not come to the Ruffnecks program with professional baseball on their horizon any more than any American boy who dreams of playing in the MLB. This means that the dream is there, but the journey is just a dream. Isan learned quickly that the dream, for Ruffnecks, is about playing the game correctly, school work, self reliance, and camaraderie. The journey usually goes through school, then college. So it was intended for Isan. He joined the Ruffnecks as a fifteen year old and played his first season under Coach Fredericks. In his first two weeks he was pulled out of games twice for not running out a pop up. His dad had never seen that happen to Isan, and apparently (according to dad) long lectures followed at home. Isan’s father called to withdraw him from the program… not because he was mad at Coach Fredericks, but because Isan had betrayed the confidence of Coach Dan Brookes and was wasting the opportunity! We assured dad that if he left the “driving” to us, we would provide a beneficial experience for Isan. It got worse before it got better.
On to the first road trip… The team traveled to New Jersey by bus. Following the New Jersey event, the team flew out of New York for a four day tournament at Auburn University in Alabama. Isan forgot his game shirts on the bus in New York. When he got to the field on the first day at Auburn he saw his name on the lineup card. As game time approached, Coach Fredericks asked where his game shirt was. “I can’t find it. I think I left it on the bus.” Isan was scratched from the lineup and sat for two full days in Alabama until the shirts arrived via FedEx. It was a tough lesson. A scared, homesick Isan Diaz was having a difficult time getting going as a Ruffneck.
Success and Notice
Eventually Isan established a rhythm during that first season as a Ruffneck. His skills advanced, and the experience of playing against intense competition sharpened his baseball instincts even further. However, another problem began to emerge. Isan’s school work was insufficient for some of the colleges that began to notice his talents. So Isan began to work with Coach John Brickley during the off season in one-on-one tutorials. He explored transferring to Salisbury School where current Seniors coach John Toffey worked. He went back to school with the goal of improving his academics so that Vanderbilt could recruit him. Eventually they did.
Isan’s next season with the Ruffnecks was a break out year. The Senior Ruffnecks team was a talented and tightly knit group that had tremendous team chemistry. Few teams can endure a week of rain in Georgia, but this one found ways to work out, have fun, and play baseball between rain clouds. By the end of the Ruffnecks summer of 2013, Isan Diaz was on all 30 MLB organizations radars. He was a Vanderbilt recruit. He had matured as a player and a person. He remembered his uniform, bats, gloves, etc. He understood the consequences of the lack of preparedness. And in the June 2014 amateur draft Isan was selected in the 2nd round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
2015 Pioneer League MVP
This past summer was spectacular for Isan Diaz. His Missoula Osprey team won the Pioneer League championship. Isan hit .360 and was named league MVP. He is currently touted as one of the Top 3 prospects in the Diamondbacks organization by Baseball America. Most importantly, for us in the Ruffnecks program, he has never forgotten his experience here. He communicates regularly with his Ruffnecks coaches and mentors to express his appreciation. He and his dad continue to keep in touch. He is in contact with a number of his Ruffnecks teammates including Will Toffey who plays for Vanderbilt. We appreciate how much the experience means to the Diaz family, and we are grateful for the many tokens, notes, texts, emails, and mementos of thanks. We hope Isan makes it to the Big Leagues! Perhaps we will see him around the NEBC sometime this fall or winter.