PORT ST. LUCIE — Edwin Diaz has a big set of cojones, The Post has confirmed.
Back in December, when the Mets acquired the All-Star closer as part of a blockbuster trade with the Mariners, I tracked down Noel Sevilla, the scout for Seattle who signed Diaz as an amateur. Sevilla proclaimed of his great find, “He has a big set of cojones.”
On Friday morning, here at First Data Field, I informed Diaz of Sevilla’s assessment.
“You have to be like that,” Diaz said with a smile. “Play hard, try to win every day. That’s my mindset. I think that’s why he said, ‘Big cojones,’ because I like to win every day.”
We are, of course, speaking figuratively of Diaz’s courage, his guts, which will be put to a new test if the Mets achieve their goal of maintaining relevance through September. In what looks to be a fiercely competitive National League East, the Mets hope to have an edge in bullpen depth with a group including the returning Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, the new Justin Wilson and the rejoining Jeurys Familia all setting up for Diaz, the pièce de résistance, who is coming off one of the best seasons ever produced by a relief pitcher.
The Mets can’t expect Diaz to duplicate his 57 saves in 61 opportunities, backed by a 1.96 ERA and a 124-to-17 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 73 ⅓innings. What they do need is for Diaz to be able to thrive in the higher intensity that their environment produces — imagine Diaz’s Mets debut coming on Opening Day, being tabbed to lock down a one-run lead against the Nationals — and to shrug off the inevitable blown saves and the requisite media session with a considerably larger group than he encountered in Seattle.
They’re going to need those big cojones, in other words.
“He thrives under that pressure,” Sevilla said. “New York won’t be a problem for him. He’ll look forward to being on that stage. He’s going to handle it well.”
“I can’t speak authoritatively because I never played behind him. But I know facing him, the overpowering stuff, I would assume that gives you a little confidence to go out there and do your thing,” said Diaz’s fellow new Met, Jed Lowrie, who faced Diaz nine times, knocking a pair of singles and drawing a pair of walks, while with the Athletics. “You can sense the fact that he knows he’s good.”
This quality, Diaz said, comes from his parents, both of whom played sports and both of whom he considers “role models.” His mother, Beatriz, excelled at softball, while his father Edwin shined at basketball.
“When I got to the ballpark, my father told me, ‘Do your best. Win or lose, do your best every time,’ ” Diaz said.
The elder Edwin Diaz worked as a self-employed contractor in Naguabo, Puerto Rico, and that put enough food on the table for Edwin, his brother Alexis (now a pitcher in the Reds’ minor league system) and sister Miriam. However, as Edwin’s baseball skills declared themselves — he switched from the outfield to the mound in his mid-teens — the Diazes required and received financial help so Edwin could join his elite team on its travels.
“I have to stay humble, because a lot of people helped me,” he said. “Every time I go to my hometown, I try to help the people, to see what they need. Do events, give stuff to the kids. That makes me feel proud for my hometown.”
That humility should ground him as he aims for a greater level of stardom.
“I have to stay humble,” he said. “New York, any place, I have to stay humble.”
And he has to keep those big cojones, I added. That fearlessness.
“I have it,” he promised. “I will demonstrate it this season.”
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