Diego Cruz, little league pioneer, dies at 75


Diego Cruz looked at the bag of dirty, torn baseball uniforms laid out at his home and thought that the Baldwin little league could do better. He went out into the community and asked for donations and sponsors to help out the league, and give the children clean uniforms at the beginning of the new season.

“He wanted better for the kids,” said his son Chris. “It was all about doing for other people.” Diego Cruz, known as Dee, accomplished his goal to provide children with better outfits and through networking with different businesses and sponsors, he helped build the little league into a community staple. Hundreds of children have passed through the Baldwin program, learning to love and appreciate America’s pastime thanks to Cruz.

His involvement in the program, Chris Cruz said, became an integral part of his life. “He talked every day about the little league,” said Tony Fiore, Diego Cruz’s longtime friend.

Diego Cruz, who was beloved by many in Baldwin, died on Feb. 11 after a brief fight with cancer. He was 75. “He was someone who thought of everyone else first before himself,” Chris Cruz said. “Not just his family and his wife, but everyone. It was all about doing for other people.”

Born in Brooklyn, Diego Cruz moved to Baldwin with his wife, Arline, in 1978, a year before Chris Cruz was born.

He got involved with the little league when his son joined the team, and stayed committed to it for many years after.

Chris Cruz said his father saw that the program was falling behind in many ways, and wanted to make it into an enjoyable league.

He would spend hours finding people who could sponsor the teams and provide financial donations. “This was a time when Google wasn’t here,” Chris Cruz said, “so you really had to work hard to do that research.” Diego spent 30 years with the little league as a coach, board member, vice president and president. “He built this thing,” Chris Cruz said.

Diego Cruz was also instrumental in obtaining the little league’s headquarters at 999 Church St. “He will be missed,” the Baldwin little league said on its Facebook page. Diego Cruz worked his entire life in law enforcement, serving in three different departments — the New York City Police Department, the State Organized Crime Task Force and the NYPD Waterfront Commission.

“He worked hard all his life,” Chris Cruz said. “I got my work ethic from him; me and my sister learned from him.”

It was through his work at the waterfront commission that Diego Cruz met Fiore, a Freeporter. The two would carpool to work together and laugh the entire time to and from work, Fiore said. “He’d make you laugh any time of the day or night,” he said. “People would cut us off on the Belt Parkway and we’d say, ‘Go right ahead.’ We didn’t care.”

Fiore said Cruz was more than a friend and driving buddy. “He was just like a family member to me,” he said. “The man’s got a heart of gold.” Cruz was a sergeant at the commission and Fiore is a mechanic.

Cruz’s funeral was held Feb. 15 and he was interred at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale. He’s survived by his wife of 47 years, Arline; his children Chris, Lisa and Keith; grandchildren Ariana, Jordan, Eva and Alexa; and sister Diana Raphael.