BOSTON — Jake Diekman was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as he sat in a chair in front of his locker in the Red Sox clubhouse at Fenway Park before Saturday’s game.
“That’s good for you,” Diekman said. “That’s instant energy.”
Meet arguably the most interesting member of the 2022 Red Sox. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound left-handed reliever struck out sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo in order with a one-run lead to close out Boston’s first win of the season at Yankee Stadium on April 10. He then told a scrum of reporters he doesn’t really give “two (expletive)” about being the closer in the most candid Red Sox postgame interview in a long time.
Here’s more of a look at his personality: He describes himself as “a massive Green Bay fan” — and he has told his wife Amanda, who was Miss Nebraska USA 2014, if they ever have a son he would like to name him “Favre .”
Diekman and Amanda have a 3 ½-year-old daughter Parker Billie whose middle name honors Diekman’s biggest fan, his late mother Billie Jean Diekman, who died Feb. 4, 2007.
Diekman also has a tattoo on the left side of his chest that pays tribute to his mom and his nickname “Gut It Out” inked on his wrist. It’s an appropriate nickname for a relief pitcher living a healthy life five years after doctors surgically removed his colon because of ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease.
Diekman understandably had no idea that a colon could be removed until his doctors told him. Who would know?
“And they did it!” he said.
Boston signed the southpaw in March to a two-year, $8-million contract that also includes a $4 million club option for 2024. So far, he has used his fastball/slider combination to strike out seven of the 13 batters he has faced (54% strikeout percentage). He hasn’t allowed an earned run in three innings. He has one save and three holds in four appearances.
He’s pitching well. But more importantly, he’s feeling great. He no longer even takes medicine for his colitis and he’s able to maintain a vast diet, which of course includes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. What does he avoid?
“Probably like eating a whole jar of salsa,” he said, laughing. “Maybe like a hot-(expletive) chicken wing. Once they reversed it (the colostomy bag), and I was able to start introducing new foods, you find out what kind of screws you up and what doesn’t. What kind of works for you.”
Living with colitis
Diekman was first diagnosed at 10 years old. Doctors initially thought he was suffering from water poisoning.
“That was not right.”
He lost significant weight during the 2016-17 offseason.
“After the ’16 season, I went home and this was before Thanksgiving or something like that. It was around-ish there,” Diekman said. “And I got super sick. I got down to like 180, 185-ish. I was like, ‘I need to go figure out what the hell is wrong.’ They were like, ‘Hey, we’ve put you on like every shot, every infusion, every pill. There’s not much else we can do. We can try a pill or a different shot. That might work for six months but your body might just shut it down and then we’re back to square one.’”
The doctors instead suggested surgery.
“So we sat on that for a little bit,” Diekman said. “I turned 30 Jan. 21. And then Jan. 25 I had a total colectomy.”
A total colectomy is the full removal of the colon.
“And I had a (colostomy) bag for, I don’t know, like six months after that,” Diekman said.
He established the Gut It Out Foundation which has a mission “to connect patients and caregivers through education and inspiration in order to strengthen relationships and resources within the IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) community.”
“Should I be taking medicine? Maybe,” he said. “I was very fortunate they were able to reverse the colostomy bag. But there’s some people that have it forever. I had it for like six months. I felt great with it. I was throwing with it. I was throwing bullpens with it. I was very fortunate because they were able to reverse it. So they brought down my small intestine.”
A blunt (and intense) postgame interview
Diekman’s eyes darted around at each reporter as he stood waiting for them to ask more questions.
He acted intense — like he wasn’t yet finished pitching and was ready to face the rest of the Yankees lineup. It was the opposite of the calm demeanor he had before the home opener when he sat back relaxed on the tarp and petted head groundskeeper David Mellor’s service dog.
Here’s how the interview went:
He was first asked about coming through in such a big situation (one-run lead, Yankee Stadium, 40,108 fans, ESPN Sunday Night Baseball), especially with such dangerous hitters at the plate. Instead of breaking down his approach against the two right-handed sluggers — Judge and Stanton as well as the left-handed power hitter, Gallo — he gave a simple response.
“It’s good to take the last game,” Diekman said. “We have a happy flight. We’ll get ready for tomorrow.”
He paused for a second.
“Yeah,” he added.
He then received a question about the 11-pitch at-bat with Judge that ended with the power-hitter foul tipping a 94.7 mph fastball for strike three.
“Didn’t want to walk him. You don’t want to put the first guy on. Just continued to make pitches. But other than that, just keep attacking. I just didn’t want to walk him.”
He was asked about the Red Sox not having a set closer and if he felt maybe his outing helped him get a handle on the job.
“Not really,” Diekman said. “I’ve kind of pitched everywhere. So like, if I can keep the score the same, either way we’re good.”
After a pause, he added, “I feel like that’s the easiest thing to do as a reliever. Don’t worry about where you go. Just keep the score the same.”
He then was asked if he wants to be the closer.
“I don’t really give two (expletive),” he answered.
“Can I quote you on that?” MLB.com’s Ian Browne asked.
“Yeah, do it. I don’t really care,” Diekman replied.
That was it. The interview was finished. Fans on Twitter loved his reply to the closer question, pointing out that’s exactly what they would want their closer to say.
So why doesn’t he give ‘two (expletive)’ about closing?
MassLive.com asked him Saturday why he couldn’t care less about being the closer.
“I’m 35,” Diekman said. “I really have never closed games before. I don’t really care if I do or not. Yeah. I’ve never won the last game of the year (World Series). A lot of people in here have. Yeah, I don’t really care.”
He has made 533 career major league outings and recorded 15 saves. Seven of those saves came for Oakland last year.
“If I go in to pitch and I keep the score the same, I think we’ll be good,” Diekman said.
He pitches to win and pitches with his mom in his mind and heart. The tattoo on his chest has his mother’s name, the date she died, and an angel holding a baseball bat and wearing a glove.
“I think about her all the time,” Diekman said.
His daughter Parker Billie reminds him of her.
“They look identical,” Diekman said.
One final important question: Will Amanda let a possible future her be named after Brett Favre?
“She doesn’t hate it,” Diekman said, but he then added, “I think if we ever have a boy, she’s going to ax that (name) really quick.”