Matt Diaz said he was surprised to receive the letter from Florida State. He had spent just two seasons in Tallahassee, leaving as a draft-eligible sophomore who was taken by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 17th round in 1999.
So when Diaz found out that he would be inducted into FSU’s Athletics Hall of Fame, he was honored.
An All-American as a sophomore, Diaz hit .384 with 43 home runs and 178 RBIs in his two seasons in Tallahassee. He helped lead the Seminoles to College World Series appearances in both seasons, including a second-place finish in 1999.
Diaz, 35, joins former soccer star Cindy Schofield, football players Sammie Smith, Sebastian Janikowski, Jamal Reynolds, softball coach JoAnne Graf and Moore-Stone Award winner Douglas Mannheimer as this year's class. The group will be inducted on Sept. 13.
Normally, Diaz would be in the middle of the MLB season and wouldn’t be able to make the ceremony. But he is rehabbing at home in Winter Haven after having microfracture surgery on his knee in May while playing for the Miami Marlins and will be a free agent in 2014.
He talked recently with Garnet & Great about his FSU and MLB careers and what’s ahead for him.
What does being inducted into the athletics hall of fame mean to you?
Diaz: "I’m kind of surprised how much it did mean to me. I left after two years, was a draft-eligible sophomore. It never entered my mind to get this honor. When I called the number, I was like, is this for real? I was ecstatic. It was pretty humbling."
When you were at FSU, the team had two good seasons. What were your favorite memories from those years?
Diaz: "We got to go to Omaha both years I was there. That was awesome. One of those we finished second (1999). That was awesome.
"In 1998, I remember a writer from the local paper had a headline that said “No Drew, No Morris equals No Omaha for ‘Noles” Somewhere in the article it mentioned my name. It read something like, ‘Having a freshman like Matt Diaz in the outfield, the expectations can’t be too high this year.’ And then in the regional, we played Oklahoma, I had four homers in that year. It felt real good. It was the first time I got to prove a media guy wrong. The expectations were so low, but it was great to get to Omaha."
Do you still keep up with the FSU coaches?
Diaz: "I talk with Mike Martin Jr. regularly. Quite a few times each season. I consider him one of the bigger baseball influences. We had a great relationship from the very beginning. His first year coaching was my first year playing college ball. I felt like we hit it off right away."
What’s next for you in 2014?
Diaz: "I am a free agent at the end of the year. I’m just going to play it by ear. See what comes up, see what opportunities become available and how the knee responds. I’m not holding my breath on anything."
You and your wife, Leslee, have been active running a foundation (diazfamilyfoundation.org). How have you been able to give back through it?
Diaz: "We’ve done some cool stuff as far away as Uganda but the stuff we’re most proud of we’ve done right here. We’ve got some really good partners in the community. We were able to bring 170 volunteers, built a playground in one day (in Polk County). That’s where I see my passion long-term, just finding a way to keep that going."