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Bisher: A Diaz you don't know

His profession is listed as a professional baseball player. Portland, Ore., is listed as his home town, but only because he was born there. He grew up in Florida, Lake Wales first, then Lakeland, and he established his trade at Florida State University.

But before he was a Seminole, he lived in Peachtree City, when he was about 4 years old.

“About all I remember about Peachtree City is a yellow house and a yellow golf cart,” he said. Just to give you a hint about Peachtree City, nearly everybody who lives there gets around on a golf cart.

If you’re curious about all the various addresses of the Diaz family, father Diaz was a minister, and still is in Lakeland. Ministers move around a lot and their kids see a lot of the world. When the Diazes landed at Lakeland the family dropped anchor there. In fact, that’s where Matt goes between baseball seasons.

(And by the way, you pronounce the name “DYE-azz,” not the Latino “Dee-azz.”)

There is a lot we don’t know about Matt, other than what we see on the field and read in the papers. It’s not his fault. He’s as open as a sun-lit morning. He has a built-in smile. He has no beef with the world.

He plays when he sees his name on the lineup card, and that’s usually when the pitcher the Braves are facing that day is a left-hander. He has lefthanders for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since he has been with the Braves his batting average is somewhere around .312, accumulated mostly against lefties.

You’ll see him take some swings that look like he’s falling out of a tree, but don’t be alarmed. The next pitch may go out of the park. And all the Braves had to put out for him was a pitcher long since out of sight.

Name was Ricardo Rodriguez, wherever he may be. The Braves sent Ricardo to Kansas City for Matt just before Christmas in 2005.

Strange to me that Matt had such a hard time finding a steady baseball home. He was an All-American on a Florida State team that won the College World Series in 1999. Hit four home runs in one game against Oklahoma in ’98. Tampa Bay offered him a contract and he wallowed around in that organization, hitting a steady stream of .300s until the Rays suddenly released him.

You wonder why, even knowing that his swing is not one that Ted Williams would have envied. Kansas City took him on and the hits kept coming until the Braves took a liking to him.

Since he has been a Brave his bat has never known a depression — until this season, and there’s a reason. First, he crashed into a wall in Milwaukee a year ago,and damaged a knee, then followed that with a thumb infection caused by a splinter. But that’s over, and he has resumed his personal campaign against left-handers. Homered in three straight games against the Padres before they could get out of town, and the charge is on.

“Matt gives you a great at-bat every time,” Bobby Cox said. “He’s a part-time guy and he knows his job and does it.”

There was a time during the past year when you feared that he might be gone — that there might not be enough left-handers in the league to give him work. His warm, infectious personality would have been a serious loss in the clubhouse. But his stock never took a drop with anybody, from Frank Wren down to the batboy.

So, he’s back on track again, and fully appreciative of his lot.

“Some people would think about the money they’re not making if they don’t play every day,” he said, “but we all make enough money,” and there you have the Diaz philosophy.

And by the way, when it’s all done he’ll probably be following the same kind of nomadic life his father has. He’s a solid Christian, and there’s probably a ministry in his future.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.