Staff writer Jaime Diaz, who is 30, has been in search of a clear identity ever since Career Day in third grade at St. Emydius School in San Francisco. Even at the age of eight he wanted to be a sportswriter, so he tucked a piece of cardboard marked PRESS into the band of his grandfather's fedora. He also wanted to be a golfer, so he wore a cardigan and carried a putter.
But Sister Anthony Bernard wasn't impressed by his career-straddling get-up. Diaz recalls receiving an "unsatisfactory" for his outfit.
Diaz has received higher marks since he came to SI last year from The Sacramento Bee, where for five years he covered, among other beats, the courthouse and City Hall. In his six months here, he has written about baseball, boxing, soccer and college basketball and football, and this week he takes on tennis (page 50).
Diaz is a reticent, preoccupied, slightly bemused fellow. "Jaime is scrupulously polite," says associate editor Susie Kamb, who worked with Diaz at The Bee. "Which is what you'd expect from a guy who's used to talking to cops, politicians and judges." And he has an almost apologetic interviewing style. "He interviews the same way he plays tennis," says Kamb. "He doesn't take the offensive, but he always gets the ball back."
Diaz grew up in the Bay Area, the son of a former All-America soccer player. As an 84-pound freshman at Concord (Calif.) High, Diaz wrestled in the 95-pound class. While his teammates were sweating off weight by running in rubber suits and spitting themselves dry, Diaz would climb onto the scale at weigh-ins wearing a pea coat. He carried more weight at the University of San Francisco, where he was No. 1 his senior year on—yes!—the golf team. He and his dad have twice won the Northern California Father and Son Tournament.
After college Diaz worked briefly as a door-to-door knife salesman before joining the Oakland Tribune as a copy boy. But the closest he got to sports was the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum, where he spent a night waiting in line to buy Super Bowl tickets for the paper's publisher. Diaz applied for a job on the sports staff but couldn't pass the requisite typing test. As it happened, one of the positions went to Ralph Wiley, now also an SI staff writer.
Diaz was accepted in a summer program for minority journalists at Berkeley. His first assignment was to cover the arraignment of an accused killer, but on the way to the courthouse he was pulled over by a policeman for driving with an out-of-date registration sticker.
The cop ran a radio check on him.
"Assume the position," ordered the officer.
"What position?" asked Diaz.
"Just put your hands up against the car and spread your legs, Diaz."
Diaz was put under arrest. He'd forgotten to pay an old fine for driving with a mutilated driver's license.
"Where are we going?" asked Diaz as the cop led him away.
"To the Hall of Justice."
"Oh, good," said Diaz. "I was going there anyway."
DIAZ: A MAN WHO KEEPS HIS EYE ON THE BALL