In early July of 2014, I booked my youngest son for summer baseball camp on Block Island. Every morning we would take the drive to Galilee from North Kingstown and board the Block Island Ferry, get some breakfast on the ferry or in town on Block Island, and take a cab out to Heinz Field. The Champions Baseball Camp was held at Heinz Field, located just south of the Block Island Airport, and featured local and regional baseball coaches. Youth baseball players from ages 6 to 15 were invited to attend the four day camp and clinic. I figured, while he was at baseball camp, I could spend the day in Block Island sightseeing, enjoying the beaches, the dunes, the many splendid natural aspects of the island. Then, after the camp was over, my son and I would grab some lunch, maybe go to the beach, and eventually head back home.
At the conclusion of the second day of camp, my son hopped in the cab and had something to tell me. “Dad,” he started, “can you come to the camp tomorrow? There is a player you should see for your own eyes. Maybe you could write a story about him.” “Of course, what is so special about this player?” I asked my son, who was an aspiring catcher on his Middle School team. “Dad, I have never seen a more dominant pitcher in my entire life. This kid pitched a 3 inning scrimmage game today on 22 pitches.” “That is about average for a 3 inning stint for kids your age.” I replied. “I agree,” said my very astute baseball catching son, “But he is only 12 and faced the team made up of high school kids. Dad, he had one immaculate inning. This kid is 12, Dad. And he made kids 2 and 3 years older than him look like they just picked up a bat. Will you come see him tomorrow?” I agreed and we headed out of Heinz Field, stopped to grab some hot dogs near the ferry, and headed home for the day.
Later that evening, I found the registration form for the camp and an email contact for the camp director of operations, Andy Salisbury. I messaged Andy about attending the camp, letting him know that I had Rhode Island baseball press credentials, and that I was interested in observing my son and a player who caught his attention, also if he knew the player and/or the player’s family in question. Andy returned my email with the acknowledgement that he was okay with my attending the camp, and also let me know that he had no idea who this player was prior to July, that this player’s family had just moved to the Island from Guatemala, his mother was new medical director for the Block Island Medical Center, his father was the new head chef at 205th Restaurant, and this player would be attending the Block Island School in the fall. The player in question was Tiziano Hernandez Diaz.
The next day, Day 3 of the Champions Camp, I accompanied my son to the Heinz Field and found a spot in the bleachers on the first base side of the field. The morning drills of the camp went on as they had in previous days, with players of similar ages grouped together. I watched as the players took some fielding practice and received tips and instruction from the camp’s coaches. Having been briefed on Tiziano’s appearance, I spotted him working around the first base bag taking throws as a first baseman. He was taller than average for his age. Left handed thrower. His build was lanky but there was a clear understanding of athleticism to him. Tiziano’s footwork was excellent around the base, fielding the baseball, and his throws to home plate and my son the catcher were crisp. “Frozen rope” is the term that came to mind. A baseball throw so crisp and pure and exact every single time.
At this point, I was more than intrigued to see Tiziano on the mound. Shortly after the camp intermission for lunch, the camp split up by age group into two fields. The big field at Heinz would host the scrimmage for the older players. The field on the north side of the field would have a hitting and fielding contest for the kids 6 to 12 years old. The only player not included was Tiziano, who remained with the older players at the big field. One of the camp coaches pointed to my son and Tiziano to join him in the bullpen area for a warmup. I left my seat on the third row of the bleachers to accompany them and observe. Standing behind the fenced in area, I positioned myself and my camera in a spot behind Tiziano, who was atop the dirt mound stretching out his arm. My son took his position in front of the plate in the bullpen and extended his glove for Tiziano. I can remember now that his fluid motion, his incredible arm flexibility, the hiss of the baseball, the “Whomp” of the impact into my son’s mitt were unprecedented. I dropped by jaw and simply whispered, “Whoa.”
To be continued…