Legendary shortstop Derek Jeter once said, “You don’t just accidentally show up in the World Series.” This rang true for this year’s World Champions, the Washington Nationals, who were helped by an advance scouting staff that included Kansas Wesleyan alumnus, Kenny Diaz ’16.
A graduate of the exercise science program, Diaz was a well-known individual around campus, spending time not only on the football team, but in numerous roles throughout the KWU community. He was one of the most involved students on campus, where he worked as a resident assistant, a resident director, Student Government Association President and vice president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, all while playing four years on the football team as a defensive back. That level of involvement wasn’t always his plan, however.
“If you had asked me at the beginning of my college career if I’d do anything besides play football and go to class,” said Diaz bluntly, “I would have laughed at you. I owe a lot of folks at KWU credit for pushing me outside of my comfort zone.”
Bridget Weiser, KWU’s Vice President for Student Development, remembers Diaz fondly. “Kenny always stood out to me during his time at KWU, not only for his leadership qualities, but his personality and caring attitude. Not only did he have numerous responsibilities, he was instrumental in instituting several changes on campus as SGA President, including working across departments to purchase additional security cameras for our campus.”
After leaving KWU, Diaz went on to Mississippi State, an interesting move for the former football player. MSU has had a storied baseball program in years past, boasting such MLB legends as Rafael Palmeiro and Will “The Thrill” Clark, and sure enough, Diaz wound up in that very game.
In the winter of 2017, like many soon-to-be master’s graduates, Diaz was uncertain of his next steps. He seized the initiative, however, and paid his own way to MLB’s Winter Meetings, which were being held in Orlando.
“When I went to Orlando,” offered Diaz, “I told myself that although I wasn’t necessarily going to find, or even look for a job, I’d be totally fine just learning about the professional aspect of baseball. I only printed three resumes that week, just to prepare myself in case something was to miraculously happen. Well, something did, because the Nationals reached out on my last day there to interview me for a player development internship. I only had 30 minutes of preparation time for the interview, but by February I was moving to West Palm Beach to start the internship.”
Diaz was moved to the advance scouting team prior to the 2019 season, his first full-time, non-intern role in the big leagues, and it was a truly special season. Baseball fans know the story, but for those who don’t, the Nationals turned their season around after a 19-31 start.
“When we acquired Gerardo Parra on May 9, he helped change the entire mood of our clubhouse,” said Diaz. “He got all of our guys having fun again, and from that point on, everyone took the season game by game, which proved critical in the playoffs.”
As a member of the advance scouting staff, Diaz played a role in the turnaround as well as provided key information.
“Our job as advance scouts is to give our on-field staff and players the most up-to-date report on each player that we are going to face in the next series,” he explained. “We use a lot of video to get this done, and the information could be anything from matchups to reports to defensive positioning. Every player and coach has access to these reports that we file, and can use them for preparation and in-game decisions. I was present at every home game and traveled to each road contest as well.”
The Nationals trailed in three of their four playoff series wins – the Wild Card game, the Division Series and the World Series – and rallied in each, before winning game seven in Houston to claim the crown.
“We didn’t look down the road,” Diaz remembered. “Our entire clubhouse bought into Davey’s (manager Martinez) philosophy of winning each day. Because of that, it didn’t really sink in until Howie (Kendrick) hit the go-ahead home run in game seven. We went crazy in the video room, and although we didn’t say it out loud, we could sense the championship was within reach. It took every one of us, all the players, coaches and support staff, working together to accomplish what we did. This group was special, and this is a year and team I’ll never forget.”
So how does a World Series champion feel about his alma mater, KWU?
“At KWU, I made connections and built relationships that will go on forever,” said Diaz. “If it had not been for my time at KWU, I would not be here today as a world champion.”
Kenny Diaz didn’t accidentally show up in the World Series. It was Kansas Wesleyan that helped push him to this pinnacle moment of sports.
Photo credit: Kenny Diaz and Washington Nationals