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Bat boy works his way to dream job

Bat boy works his way to dream job

CLEVELAND -- Ramon Diaz listened to the warnings.

Nearly everyone Diaz, a clubhouse worker for the Indians, seemed to encounter in his hardscrabble neighborhood harbored regrets. Many held respectable working class jobs, others did not. All had the same message.

"I was either around people who did illegal stuff or people who really didn't do anything in high school," Diaz said. "And they were always telling me, 'If you don't work, you're going to end up just like me.'"

So he worked. He worked to gain entrance into St. Ignatius, one of the area's most rigorous prep schools. He worked, often studying until 3 a.m., to build up a 4.1 grade point average. And he worked his way into Columbia University, the Ivy League school he'll be attending on a full scholarship this fall.

Along the way, this ethic instilled in him by two determined and loving parents earned him the dream gig of bat boy for the Indians.

Yet even here, he worked. Whether it's his recent successful search for Joe Borowski's missing sock -- the garment was buried across the clubhouse in Jason Michaels' locker -- or his lighting into this year's bat boys after a particularly careless effort, the 18-year-old Diaz has become what one clubhouse worker called the finest worker he's seen in his 19 years with the club.

"He's one of a kind," said Tony Amato, the Indians' clubhouse manager. "He knows the meaning of real work. We're happy he's going to school, but it's going to be a sad day in this clubhouse."

That farewell will come when Diaz leaves for good in August. Or, check that, after his October cameo.

"When we make the playoffs," Diaz said, "I will commute back for one game. I'll find a way."

But until then, there are dreams to be chased, dreams that were born early.

Diaz grew up on the city's near-west side in a neighborhood with boarded-up windows, crumbling brick streets and overgrown grasses rising up the sides of the chain-linked fences fronting the homes. He saw drug dealers peddling on the way home from school.

His mother, Iris, remembers an unusually driven boy, one who had long dreamed of one day owning a Ferrari. Some laughed, but why not? Why not him?

It may have been the stuff of childhood fantasies, but Diaz had a plan. He'd outwork everyone.

And this would never be more true once he was accepted into St. Ignatius. Coming from a public school background, Diaz was immediately behind his suburban classmates.

"These kids' parents were teaching them calculus. Their parents were even teachers themselves," Diaz said. "Those first two years were so hard because I had to learn double the stuff. It was going to take double the work just to catch up."

He did. Coming home from school, Diaz would take an hour nap, help out around the house and then study for no less than five hours until 1 a.m. every weeknight.

He even found time to become president of the school's Multicultural Student Union, join the chess club and take part in volunteer missions to help the city's poor.

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Diaz also began to look for a job.

Chuck Kyle, the school's long-time football coach and Diaz's former English teacher, took notice. And if there was ever a student to reward, it was the tireless Diaz.

So one day at the end of Diaz's sophomore year, Kyle asked him if he still needed a job.

"Of course," he said.

How about bat boy for the Tribe?

Kyle was friends with Amato, so bat boy it was. Diaz would be working behind the scenes in a big-league clubhouse.

Not that it all would be glamour work. Diaz helps with laundry, shining shoes, packing for road trips, cleaning the dugout and countless other errands.

And school didn't vanish. After coming straight from school to the park and not leaving until nearly midnight, Diaz would stay up until 3 a.m. studying.

He even snuck flash cards in his glove to study during the games. Look closely, and you could see him staring down during inning breaks, pitching changes, and pretty much any break in the action.

"What are you doing?" the players joked. "We've got a game."

"I know, I know, but I've got a big test coming up," Diaz would say. "I've got to study."

In the end, his two-plus years as a bat boy-turned-clubbie have been "awesome."

"For the past few years, I consider myself the luckiest person in the world," Diaz said. "A lot of kids will say, 'I've got a good summer job.' Please. I'm a bat boy. I've met Curt Schilling, Ken Griffey Jr., [Alex Rodriguez]. I've met everyone. Mr. [Eric] Wedge, Mr. [Mark] Shapiro, everybody."

A few of the players have even befriended the kid known as Ray Ray, who unfailingly has a smile for everyone.

Former Tribe closer Bob Wickman, for instance, often used to wait around following games to drive Diaz home. He even let Diaz drive his massive Chevy Silverado truck one time -- this when Diaz only had his temporary license.

"What? What if I scratch it?" Diaz asked.

"Well," Wickman replied, "that's what I have insurance for."

This year, the clubhouse staff had so much confidence in Diaz that they let him train two new bat boys himself. And one day earlier this season, they looked on with pride as their understudy, frustrated with the relaxed pace of his replacements, set the boys straight.

"Unsolicited, he's getting on them and making sure they're hustling, making sure they know how to work," Amato said. "It was impressive, for an 18-year-old to take that kind of leadership, but it wasn't surprising."

Not for a kid who's now off to Columbia, where he will become the first member of his immediate family to go to college.

"People can say I've been in the worst situations, but I think personally I'm the richest person in the world," said Diaz, who now has his eyes on a stock-trading career. "I have two parents that loved me. I had good examples in my house. I'm lucky, really. Not many people have what I have."

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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