Daniel Nava: From zero to hero

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Life as a baseball player wasn’t always this good for Daniel Nava.

For awhile, Nava wasn’t sure he’d ever make it as a pro, after failing to make the baseball team at Santa Clara University and becoming the team’s equipment manager. After two years, Nava could no longer afford the tuition at Santa Clara, and enrolled at the College of San Mateo, where he had no intention of playing baseball, until an old friend encouraged him to try out for the team. Playing at San Mateo, Nava became a Junior College All-American and was offered a full scholarship to return to Santa Clara, where he hit .395 and had a .494 OBP.

Still, earning top honors in his division wasn’t enough. Nava went undrafted and signed with the Golden Baseball League’s Chico Outlaws, who again, cut him after their tryouts. Luckily for the Outlaws, they needed Nava back the next year, and he delivered: 12 home runs and a .371 batting average, with a 1.100 OPS. As a result, he was named the No. 1 independent league prospect by Baseball America in 2007, and was scouted by the Red Sox director of pro scouting, Jared Porter. Nava’s contract was purchased from Chico by the Red Sox for just $1, with an agreement that the Outlaws would receive another $1,499 if Nava was kept in with the franchise following spring training.

 

Nava played for High-A Lancaster’s Jet Hawks in 2008 (then affiliated with the Red Sox) and hit .341, had 59 RBI, and hit 10 home runs in 85 games, with an OPS of .948. Nava was transferred to the Single-A Salem Red Sox in 2009 (which became a Red Sox farm team that year) where he hit .339 before being promoted to Double-A Portland. With the Sea Dogs, Nava hit .364 with four home runs with a .991 OPS.

At 27 years old, Nava was promoted again in 2010 to the Red Sox Triple-A team, the Pawtucket Red Sox, but his bat wasn’t nearly as hot. Still, the Red Sox had holes to fill in their outfield, and promoted him again, and for the first time in his career, to the majors. Nava became only the second player in MLB history to hit a grand slam on the first pitch he’d seen in his first major league at bat. 

But it wasn’t all coming up roses for Nava when the team designated him for assignment in May 2011. Other teams didn’t garner interest in Nava and he finished the season with Pawtucket. The next season, Nava showed up for spring training early, only to find out that he wasn’t heading to big league camp, despite playing in the majors for the majority of the 2010 season and in Triple-A for all of the 2011 season. Nava recently admitted to considering retiring when he got the news.

“I got there early and when I realized I wasn’t going to big league camp but everybody else was,” Nava told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. “It was then I felt I needed to be realistic and that I might be done here. If you’ve got guys below you going to big league camp and you’re not going to big league camp, you have to look at things and be realistic. They might not have any plans for me in the future.”

The Red Sox Player Development staff encouraged Nava to be patient, and after some careful consideration, Nava figured he had stuck out long enough, and it was worth waiting a little longer.

In 2010, Nava said, “I know I have the talent and the ability, and I can keep playing at the next level. If I didn’t think I could, I would have been like, ‘You know what? There’s no point.’ I definitely thought I could perform and perform well. That’s why I kept on going. Quitting’s just not much of an option for me.”

The wait paid off.

In 2012, the Red Sox needed Nava to plug holes in the outfield again with Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury both on the disabled list, and Nava earned his spot on the team, staying with the Sox for the rest of the 2012 season. Nava was invited to big league camp for the 2013 season, and not only made the 40-man roster, but also made the 25-man roster, and has been filling in tremendously both in left field, as well as right, and even at first base occasionally, where he worked during spring training.

And finally, at 30 years old, Nava is in a big league uniform full-time. In 21 games this season, Nava has scored 15 runs, had 22 hits, 4 home runs, 16 RBI, 10 walks, and his hitting .310/.407/.535/.942. He hit a game-winning three-run homer in the first game played at Fenway following the Boston Marathon bombings, and forget his numbers at the plate for just a second, he’s also made some outstanding defensive plays, including the game-ending grab in the Red Sox 6-1 win over the Houston Astros on Sunday.

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