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For some Rays, Mother’s Day is different

Yandy Diaz hasn’t seen his mom since leaving Cuba in 2013; Ryan Thompson says his mom is the reason he is in the majors.
The Rays' Yandy Diaz tries to talk to his mother daily, even if just by text. He hasn’t seen Elsa Maria Fernandez since 2013, when he left Cuba.
The Rays' Yandy Diaz tries to talk to his mother daily, even if just by text. He hasn’t seen Elsa Maria Fernandez since 2013, when he left Cuba. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 6|Updated May 6

SEATTLE — Mother’s Day is not particularly special for Yandy Diaz.

That’s because the Rays infielder thinks of how special his mother is every day.

Diaz hasn’t seen Elsa Maria Fernandez since 2013, when he left Cuba on a raft — after being caught and jailed four times previously — to pursue his dream of playing in the majors.

He tries to talk by phone or have a video call with her each day, or at least exchange texts. He is hoping to get bureaucratic clearance, as some other Cuban big-leaguers have, to go back to the island this offseason for a visit. He has considered, but for now doesn’t consider it safe, to try to get her out of Cuba and to the United States.

He misses her immensely.

Rays infielder Yandy Diaz has this photo of his mom, Elsa Maria Fernandez, on his cell phone.
Rays infielder Yandy Diaz has this photo of his mom, Elsa Maria Fernandez, on his cell phone. [ Courtesy Yandy Diaz ]

“There’s three women in my life that are very important,” Diaz said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro.

One is his wife, Mayisleidis. One is his maternal grandmother, Aleida Margarita, who passed away shortly after he left Cuba and was the head of their household.

And the other is his mother.

“We try to communicate as much as we can,” Diaz said. “Without being able to see my grandmother, it really makes me reflect on making sure I speak with my mom a lot more often.”

Diaz is Fernandez’s only child, and she would work 12-hour days at a cigar factory near their home in Sagua la Grande to provide for him. (Diaz said his father, Jorge, who played professionally in Cuba and — after defecting, briefly in the minors — wasn’t around much and didn’t have an impact on his life.)

Fernandez, now 48, also influenced Diaz to play baseball. When he made his big-league debut for Cleveland in 2017, team staffers made a video package for him to send her.

“It was really hard for me, because I was always there for all of his baseball career, and to not be there in such a beautiful moment was very difficult,” she told mlb.com then. “But at the same time, I was really happy. In that moment, I felt that I was the proudest mom in the whole world.”

Diaz now longs for the day they can share a moment together.

While players often credit their fathers for developing their baseball skills, several Rays acknowledge the support they got from their moms in getting them to games and practices, organizing their schedules and cheering them on.

Reliever Jason Adam said his mom, Becky, would lend a hand wherever needed. “She tried to play catch with me,” he said, “but that never went so well. But she’s the best.”

Current Rays reliever Ryan Thompson with his mother, Karin, during his minor-league stint with Corpus Christi in 2016-17.
Current Rays reliever Ryan Thompson with his mother, Karin, during his minor-league stint with Corpus Christi in 2016-17. [ Courtesy of Ryan Thompson ]
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Reliever Ryan Thompson said his mom, Karin, had a bigger role in him getting to the majors than his father, Ed, who coached him throughout his childhood. (And who famously flew in from Portland for Ryan’s big-league debut during the 2020 no-fans season to watch from nearby Ferg’s sports bar and see him afterward in the parking lot).

“My dad was such a huge influence in so many ways, but my mom was just as much going a different way,” Thompson said. “She was more of the emotional support. She was there at every game. Always wanted me to be happy first and foremost. Just kind of keeping the game in that vein, not so much performance-based, but having fun doing what you love.”

When Thompson got an offer to play Division I baseball at Campbell (N.C.) University, it was Karin, who played college basketball at Alaska-Fairbanks, who pushed him to what was a life-changing decision as it led to him being drafted by the Astros.

“My dad was kind of the one that wanted me to stay home and play Division II so I could be with family, he could watch and all this stuff,” Thompson said. “My mom was really the one that was pushing me to kind of go off on my own and be the best version of myself and all that.

“If I didn’t go to Campbell, I guarantee I wouldn’t be here.”

This mother’s day is extra special, as Thompson can visit in person with Karin, a middle school PE teacher in Turner, Ore., a 3 ½-hour drive from Seattle.

In most seasons, she makes a trip out to see him. He still laughs about her 2015 visit to Davenport, Iowa, when he was with an Astros Class A team and had an apartment in a rough part of town. Due to a scheduling mix-up, she had to spend a day there alone after the team left on a road trip.

“She was stuck in my apartment by herself and we had no groceries and she was scared to go get food,” he said. “All we had in the in the freezer was ice cream sandwiches. So for breakfast, lunch and dinner all she ate was ice cream sandwiches.

“And she would do that in a heartbeat just to be there and support me.”

Reliever J.P. Feyereisen’s mother, Jana, is a massive fan of all sports, and is active on Twitter not only supporting him and his teams, but his former teammates.

“I feel like she tries to be a mother for everybody else on social media,” he said. “There’s not too many moms who know baseball as much as she does and loves it as much as she does.”

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