HOUSTON – Soon after the Astros acquired Aledmys Díaz from the Toronto Blue Jays last November, the former All-Star infielder received a brief text message from fellow Cuban native Yuli Gurriel.
The message was in Spanish. It was brief yet special, giving Díaz an early indication of the warmth he would find inside the Astros’ star-studded clubhouse.
Bienvenido a la familia.
Welcome to the family, indeed.
Joining a new group can be difficult. It can be especially intimidating to join a position group full of legitimate superstars with multiple All-Star nods, a recent American League MVP and the 2017 World Series title on their resumes.
Díaz, who landed on the 10-day injured list Monday with a left hamstring strain, has definitely appreciated the familial culture inside the Astros’ clubhouse and throughout the fourth largest city in America.
After stints with the Cardinals in St. Louis, where the Latino population is minuscule at less than three percent, and with the Toronto Blue Jays, Aledmys and his wife Dayara have enjoyed the Latino flair in what Houstonians proudly embrace as the most diverse city in America.
“The city is incredible,” Díaz said. “The fans are incredible, and the chance to eat a lot of Hispanic food is incredible. We have a lot of fans from Latin America – Mexicans, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans. I’m very happy. You feel at home.”
Díaz enjoys shopping with his wife in Houston. Although he’s completely fluent in English, he and his wife enjoy being able to speak Spanish almost everywhere they go in the Space City.
He spent time in Mexico after defecting from Cuba. He has an affinity for Mexican food, which is in abundance in Houston. He loves his tacos a pastor, Díaz notes with the smile of a man who knows his tacos.
He also loves sushi, which he has also found in great quality and abundance in Houston.
“My wife loves the city and to be able to speak Spanish at many places we go here,” he said. “We feel like at home. She can go shopping or to restaurants, and they treat her very well. The fans have been very welcoming to us.”
On the field, Díaz’s home is all over the diamond for the 2017 World Series champions who reached the last American League Champion Series.
He has essentially taken the super utility role that once belonged to 2017 World Series hero Marwin González, one of the most beloved figures inside the Astros’ clubhouse.
There’s no doubt that the veterans hated to see the Astros let González go via free agency to the Minnesota Twins this winter. Nonetheless, Díaz was welcomed into the group from the minute he walked into the clubhouse at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches! for spring training.
“He has really fit in well,” 2017 AL MVP José Altuve said of Diaz. “He’s a good guy.”
Diaz has definitely enjoyed the warm embrace.
“I’m very happy,” Díaz said. “Ever since I arrived at the clubhouse for spring training I knew this was a family. Since I got to spring training everybody’s supported me. I’m happy to be here.”
Díaz, who was an All-Star shortstop as a rookie in 2016 with the Cardinals, has embraced his utility role on a team that has 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa at short, 2017 AL MVP and perennial All-Star Altuve at second, 2018 All-Star Alex Bregman at third and Gurriel at first.
“I’ve appreciated his approach, his attitude, his demeanor,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “He loves being on this team. I think culturally it fits perfectly. He and Yuli are close. He and Altuve and Correa have formed a good bond, so he’s a perfect puzzle piece for us.”
Díaz had played most of his 320 games over the first three seasons in the majors at shortstop. He played only one game at second base as a rookie in 2016, when he played 106 at short and appeared in another four exclusively as a pinch hitter.
A year later, he played 68 at short, four at third, three in left field and one at second. He played 95 at short and 38 at third last year with the Blue Jays.
The Astros have already played Díaz at first base for the first time in his career in the majors. They’ve also used him at short, third and left field.
Most of his starts have been at second base, though, where he stepped in nicely while Altuve was on the injured list until he also suffered a hamstring ailment and landed on the bench for a few days.
He was hitting .286 with a .321 on-base percentage, five home runs, 22 RBI and a .510 slugging percentage over 32 games before landing on the IL. He has made 14 starts at second base in place of Altuve, appearing in three others at second.
After playing two games at second over his first three years in the majors, it’s surprising that he has already appeared in 17 games at second with the Astros.
He also has started six games at first, two at short, two at left and two at third.
“He’s fit in perfectly,” Hinch said of Díaz. “His approach has been really impressive. He comes to a team that’s predominantly right handed in all the positions that he’s played his whole career. We introduced first base to him, which we’ve done a little bit, but not a lot.
“We put him in left field. He’s done a little bit and not a lot. He’s embraced the role of a utility player, moving around the field, not knowing when his next at-bat is going to come. When we had a few injuries and he had his opportunity he played really well.”
Featured Image: Duane Burleson / Getty Images Sport