One of the advantages living close to Fenway Park (arguably one of the best baseball parks in the Major Leagues) is that I get to go to a lot of games. So far, the Red Sox have only played six games at home this this season, and I’ve been to two of them – not bad for a 10-year old, right? At one of the games, I got to see one of my favorite players, Daniel Nava, make a nice catch in right field about 10 feet away from me. I love watching Nava play. He always puts in 100 percent effort. Even if the Red Sox are losing 20-1, he still goes out there and plays like they could win. He plays well, is incredibly committed and has a great attitude.
I think Nava has been one of the great Red Sox stories of the past few years. In 2010, on his very first pitch in the MLB, he hit a grand slam. In his very first game at Fenway Park after the Boston Marathon Bombings last season, he hit a walk–off three run homer.
But before Nava was a big league slugger, he was an undersized kid who faced a lot of personal adversity. Wondering how in the world this happened?
The Boston Globe Magazine ran a great story about Nava last summer. In it, writer Joseph P. Kahn dug into Nava’s early days on the diamond.
When Nava was at St. Francis High School, he arrived at tryouts for the team a skinny, underweight teenager who looked like he wasn't meant to play baseball. He was 4-feet-8-inches and under 80 pounds. He displayed some above average skills, but was always considered too scrawny to play baseball. That didn't stop him, though. He trained and worked hard and by his senior year he grew 10 inches, gained 80 pounds, and had made the varsity team.
Still, Nava had trouble hitting the ball out of the infield, even in college. But the coach at Santa Clara University liked Nava's great attitude and baseball smarts and offered him an equipment manager position. In exchange, he was allowed to work out with the team, which nobody had to nudge Nava to do. By his sophomore year, Nava was very good. But just as coaches were starting to take notice, he was dealt a blow. His family was struggling financially. Nava decided to leave Santa Clara for the more affordable junior college, College of San Mateo.
He left a vivid image in the coach’s mind during tryouts, playing catch with the left field wall. Nava ultimately played two seasons at San Mateo, leading his team to a championship with a .400 average. He was also named a Junior College All-American. Nava returned to Santa Clara University to finish college and became a star, batting .395 to lead the West Coast Conference
Despite his college success, Nava went undrafted after graduation. So he returned to San Mateo as an unpaid coach’s assistant to stay in baseball shape. In 2007, when a roster spot opened up, he got a callback from the Chico Outlaws, a team in an independent league, and made the most of it. He led his team to a championship, batting .371 and hitting 12 home runs. Without seeing him play, Jared Porter, coordinator of professional scouting for the Red Sox at the time, took over his contract for $1.
After making his way through the Red Sox farm system, Nava finally made it to the big leagues in 2010. He saw his first action in a game against the Phillies. Boston brought Nava in with the bases loaded, and Philadelphia pitcher Joe Blanton thought he could blow three pitches past the rookie to get out of the jam. His first throw was an outside fastball. Big mistake. Nava took the advice of Red Sox radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione — before the game, he told Nava to swing as hard as he could on the first pitch because "you only get one first pitch, so you might as well be up there swinging," Nava told the Boston Globe — and crushed the pitch into the Red Sox bullpen. He was only the fourth person to hit a grand slam in his first Major League at-bat. More importantly, he brought home four runs and pretty much won the game.
Still, in 2011 the Sox put Nava on waivers and when he went unclaimed he went back to the Pawtucket Red Sox. Nava was not invited to Boston's training camp in 2012, but showed up to early spring training anyways. When Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford went out of the lineup in May, Nava was called back to the bigs. He's been there ever since. Boston signed him for $505,500 through 2013, which turned out well for the Sox — as Daniel Nava was the key player of many games in their championship 2013 season.
Even though Nava is off to a slower start, I still have high hopes that he will be a legitimate all-star candidate in 2014. Isn’t it amazing how someone can go from a random, skinny teenager to an all-star MLB player with a knack for dramatic plays? If you can, I highly recommend you see him play this year.
Photo: Michael Dwyer/AP Photo