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Sizzling Daza is on record chase

Isotopes outfielder Yonathan Daza is in the hunt for several team records and a Pacific Coast League batting title. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

With the hunt for a division title being impractical, the final 40 games of the Pacific Coast League baseball season for the Albuquerque Isotopes become, in some measure, about the individual angles.

Chief among the queries will be who parent Colorado might call up in September off this roster.

Then there are the multiple pursuits of 25-year-old Yonathan Daza.

Daza, who has been in the Rockies organization since he was 16, is chasing several single-season franchise records — average, hits and on-base percentage — but the affable Venezuelan also is firmly in the mix to win a PCL batting crown.

“Those things are there; it’s hard not thinking about that,” said Daza, who hails from Maracay, which is in the northern part of Venezuela near the Caribbean Sea. “But I’m just having fun. I’m enjoying this experience here.”

After Saturday night’s game, a 13-9 loss to visiting El Paso in 11 innings in which Daza grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the 10th, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Daza was hitting .371, second in the league and eight points behind Las Vegas’ Corban Joseph.

Daza leads the PCL in hits with 126 in just 77 games. With 40 games remaining, Daza will have to have collect 54 hits just to tie the team record of 180, set last year by Josh Fuentes.

But Daza is on pace to break the existing Isotopes batting average record of .360, set in 2005 by Joe Dillon. And his .372 is a huge bump over the .305 he hit in Double-A Hartford in an injury-plagued 2018 season.

“For sure, I make adjustments in the offseason,” Daza said. “I do all the work in the cage, I’m seeing the results.”

Daza has 10 home runs, 27 doubles (fourth in the PCL), 43 RBIs and 11 stolen bases this season from the leadoff spot in the Albuquerque order. He also is seventh in the league in total bases.

Daza has had a slight taste with parent Colorado, getting 18 at-bats in six games with the Rockies. So far.

Like so many kids from central America and the northern part of South America, Daza was immersed in baseball at a very young age — 3, he said with a laugh.

“In Venezuela, as a kid the first thing you have is a bat and a ball and you go play baseball,” he said. “That’s what I was born into, playing in the street with my boys.”

It was when he was 14 that a coach said to his mother that “he’s got talent. I think he needs to leave high school.”

And that was precisely what happened.

Daza was on the Rockies’ radar as a mid-teenager. Colorado signed him as an international free agent in October 2010. This is his already his ninth professional season.

But the first couple of years were almost unfathomably difficult, as he had to leave home in order to spread his baseball wings. Forced to grow up quickly, he spent much of that time playing in the Dominican Republic.

“That was hard for sure to leave my family, my mom, leave my friends and be by myself in another country,” Daza said. “My first year was tough.”

His mom would travel from Venezuela as often as possible to see him, but the simple truth is, Daza said, he was frequently homesick.

“I call her and say, ‘I don’t want to be here,'” Daza said. “Every time I call my mom, I say I want to leave, this is too hard, I need you. That was the hard part for me.

“When I was in my third year, I was a little more prepared. I was playing Venezuelan winter ball a little bit and that prepared me.”

Nearly a decade into this career, Daza said he feels completely at home in the Rockies organization.

“I love this franchise,” he said. “(They) saw me grow up, there every step with me. My whole career, I want to play with the Rockies, for sure.”

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