Now imagine the dream is a reality because the team's big league starting right fielder is injured. You have been picked from a pool of candidates and are the starter on opening day. Now, imagine that instead of just baby-sitting the position, you emerge as one of the league's top hitters, providing a jolt of excitement to a team that was crossing its fingers that you wouldn't fall on your face.Now stop imagining. You are Victor Diaz, the 23-year-old right fielder for the Mets and you are playing the position that Mike Cameron vacated because of wrist surgery last December. Now, you are a star in the making.Diaz has done more than not screw up. He has quietly become one of the team's best hitters, setting a Mets rookie record for RBI (16) and runs scored (16) in the month of April. He is among league leaders with a .358 batting average and on Sunday made a statement that he should be an everyday player by going 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBI in a 10-5 win over Washington.Diaz is suddenly leading the team in four offensive categories: batting average (.358), runs (16), triples (tied with 1), and on base percentage (.485). And yet, it is possible that when Cameron returns, the stage-stealing Diaz could be exiled back to the minors where he will probably become ensnared in trade rumors. With Cameron taking batting practice on Monday at Port St. Lucie and perhaps playing in a simulated game later in the week, Diaz is doing his best to block out the inevitable and continue to scare opposing pitchers."All you can do is take it day-by-day," Diaz said after going 1-for-3 against Atlanta Monday. "I'm trying to take advantage of the situation and show what I can do. I've been producing at the plate and it's just about getting an opportunity to play. I feel that if I get the repetitions, I can be successful here. I'm just trying to keep my head on straight and play the best I can."Diaz, who was born in the Dominican Republic and attended Roberto Clemente HS in Chicago, was acquired from the Dodgers in 2003 in the Jeromy Burnitz deal and played in 14 games with the Mets last year. He was dubbed 'Little Manny' by his teammates because of his resemblance to Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez in hitting and attitude. Pedro Martinez, Ramirez's teammate on the Red Sox last year and Diaz's teammate this year has kept up the nickname, and Diaz is proving Martinez prescient.Like Ramirez, Diaz has shown a harmful penchant for losing focus outside of the batter's box. In his Herculean effort against the Nationals, he was doubled off second base. He also forgot the number of outs while he was running the bases in a game against the Phillies. Manager Willie Randolph has grown weary of answering questions on whether Diaz will remain with the club when Cameron returns, referring to Diaz as just another player in deference to his stats and vaguely drawing out the team's intentions for his future."I am going to do what is best for the team," Randolph told reporters on Sunday. "There is nothing he can do to change that. There is nothing he can show us. He might still be with us, but it's too early to think about that yet." Diaz, who won two minor league batting titles with the Dodgers and won the Sterling Award in Triple-A Norfolk as the team's most valuable player, has impressed Mets first-year hitting coach, Rick Down with his limberness at the plate. Down, the Yankees minor league batting instructor last year, has been working with the free-swinging Diaz on being more selective and limiting his strikeouts."He has the unique ability to always get the barrel on the ball," he said. "He's now waiting for a good pitch instead of swinging at whatever is thrown to him. He's proven that he can hit the ball everywhere he's been and he's doing the same here. I'm not sure what his situation is in terms of what will happen to him when Cameron comes back, but Diaz has shown that he can hit the ball. He's the type of player who can play everyday if he gets the opportunity. He needs to stay focused and not worry about what will happen (when Cameron comes back). When you start concerning yourself with that type of stuff, you can get yourself in trouble. You can mess yourself up." Diaz's father played minor league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals and taught Victor Jr. how to play the game when he was growing up. He has caught most of Victor Jr.'s games in person and is "kind of living his dreams through me," Diaz said.If Diaz can finish the year in the majors, he will have fulfilled two dreams at once. Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by E-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 130.
©2005 Community News Group
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