According to his Baseball Reference page, Colorado Rockies’ catcher Elias Díaz has one nickname: El Maracucho.
Born and raised in the northwest region of Venezuela in the state of Zulia, those from the capital city of Maracaibo can often be given this moniker.
But one nickname is even more befitting a player like Díaz: The Tank.
Throughout parts of eight seasons in the Major Leagues, the 31-year-old has had only one season thwarted by injuries.
“I’ve been a healthy guy for almost my whole career,” Díaz shared in front of his locker before another start. “Just the one year that I got soreness in my elbow and my knee. But other than that, no issues.”
He missed much of the first half in 2016 following tendon surgery in his right elbow before hitting the shelf again in September for an infection of his left knee.
Outside of a virus that cost him a few weeks to start the 2019 season, Díaz has not had another stint on the injured list.
Entering Monday, Díaz had spent exactly 100 innings behind the plate this season, fifth-most in baseball. His 13 games played is topped by only Philadelphia Phillies J.T. Realmuto amongst catchers.
For some catchers, the secret is yoga. Though the recipient of a three-year, $14.5 million extension last offseason does stretch regularly, his key is a bit more old school.
“He got beat up a lot early on and during the year, taking some shots,” fellow backstop Dom Nuñez said of Díaz in 2021. “Not only did he not come out of the game, he played the next day. That just shows the heart that he has, the toughness that he has. That’s rubbed off on me.”
Last year, the duo of Díaz and Nuñez spent the entire season on the active roster. Neither went on the injured list, an absolute rarity for those donning the tools of ignorance.
In 1997, Kirt Manwaring and Jeff Reed caught every inning for Colorado. The next season, they nearly did the same, falling short by 11 innings and two pitches. (Those two pitches were credited to Neifi Pérez – yes, the shortstop – in a strange affair on June 7, 1998 that also saw Larry Walker play second base and third base.)
It hasn’t just been about being healthy enough to play. It’s also been about the quality of play.
Last year, Díaz was sixth in Defensive Runs Saved (9) among all catcher. Presently, the 31-year-old is only one of the 35 players with at least 55 innings at catcher this year to allow a stolen base.
Before Detroit’s Willi Castro stole second base against Nuñez in game one of a doubleheader on Saturday, the Rockies were the last team in MLB to not surrender a stolen base.
It was a similar story last season with Colorado’s duo giving up the seventh-fewest in MLB.
A little of the perseverance comes from his brothers who played baseball in Venezuela and had the same tough spirit. But most comes from the sport itself, and those who developed him beginning at 17 years old when Díaz signed as an international free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I learned it in baseball,” he said of his toughness. “I had coaches in the past that were tough. They taught you how to be tough in this game.”
Díaz noted Tom Prince, his first manager after coming stateside for the first time in 2010 and frequent Pirates catching coordinator, as someone integral in his development for persisting through the pain.
And it wasn’t always the physicality of the position that was hammered into a young Díaz.
“The mind of a catcher has to be tough, too. It has to be. Everybody’s watching you,” he explained. “Never let them see you sweat. Never give a tell about your next move. Never let them see your signs.”
Signed through the 2024 season, Díaz has been imparting his wisdom on his locker mate, 27-year-old Dom Nuñez since signing before the start of the 2020 season.
Throw in the minor league players that he works with each spring like Brian Serven, Willie MacIver and Max George, it’s easy to see how the next generation of Rockies’ backstops could follow suit.
With upcoming opponents like the Phillies, Reds, Nationals and Diamondbacks ranking in the bottom half of steals to open the season, it will be interesting to see when someone finally breaks through against Colorado’s tough no. 35.