Thursday, May 30, 2013
Daniel Nava became a bit of a Boston folk hero on June 12, 2010 when he became only the fourth player in Major League Baseball history to hit a grand slam in his first major league at bat and just the second to do it on the first pitch.
But despite his auspicious start, and the historic blast, Nava was sent back to Triple-A just 10 days later.
He was recalled to Boston on August 2 to replace Mike Cameron (who had been placed on the DL), but was optioned just two days later to make room for Jacoby Ellsbury. Nave was recalled once more on August 17, after Ellsbury re-injured his ribs.
However, despite these repeated trips to the big leagues, Nava never played a game for the Red Sox the following year. He was designated for assignment and removed from the Red Sox 40-man roster on May 20, 2011.
After passing through waivers unclaimed (none of the other 29 major league teams wanted him), Nava was out-righted back to the Pawtucket Red Sox.
It was just another bump in road (one of many, really) over the course of Nava's baseball career. Through it all, he never lost hope or a belief in himself, saying, "Quitting’s just not much of an option for me."
Nava's steely resolve was forged by overcoming long odds and countless doubters at every step of the way.
When Nava graduated from high school in Mountain View, California, he was just 5' 5" and 150 pounds. He may have been the only person who didn't see that as a limitation.
He tried to make the Santa Clara University baseball team as a walk-on, but failed. So he became the team's equipment manager instead.
However, Nava had to leave Santa Clara after two years because he could no longer afford the tuition. So, he then enrolled at a junior college, the College of San Mateo, where he not only made the baseball team but became a Junior College All-American.
Given his performance, Santa Clara wanted Nava back and offered him a full scholarship.
Nava went on to hit .395 with a .494 on-base percentage in his lone season with Santa Clara. Both were tops in the West Coast Conference and earned him first-team All-WCC honors.
Yet, Nava went undrafted after college and eventually signed with the Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League. However, he was cut after his tryout.
Undaunted, Nava made the team the following year (2007) and went on to hit 12 home runs for the Outlaws, with a .371 batting average and a 1.100 OPS. As a result, Nava was named the top independent league prospect by Baseball America that year.
The Red Sox' assistant director of pro scouting, Jared Porter, recommended that the Sox sign Nava from the Outlaws in 2007 and the Sox ultimately paid them just $1 for the rights to Nava.
The young outfielder worked his way through the Sox minor league system, posting excellent OPS numbers and strikeout-to-walk ratios at every step of the way.
After getting designated by the Sox in 2011 and then going unclaimed by any other team, it looked as if Nava's big league aspirations would be unfulfilled. To make matters worse, Nava wasn't even invited to major league training camp in 2012.
However, due to early-season injuries to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, Nava was soon called up by the Red Sox again. He had gone 188 at-bats since his debut grand slam, when on May 14, 2012 he smashed a two-run homer at Femway. Through it all, Nava's belief in himself had never waivered.
For a guy who faced physical limitations from the beginning, and who was deemed inadequate by so many, Nava's accomplishments this year are striking. And for him, they must be quite rewarding.
This season, Nava is batting .288/.393/.474/.867. Among Red Sox players, he is fourth in batting (third among regulars), fourth in on-base percentage (third among regulars), fourth in slugging (third among regulars), and fourth in OPS (second among regulars).
Nava is fourth on the team with seven homers (three players are tied with eight) and third with 33 RBI. With exactly one-third of the season played, Nava is on pace for 21 homers and 99 RBI.
Not bad for a guy who couldn't make the Santa Clara University baseball team, who went undrafted, who was cut by an Independent League team, who was DFA'd by the Red Sox and who went unclaimed on waivers by any other club.
Daniel Nava is easy to root for. He is the classic overachiever, a guy who succeeds against all odds. He is a lesson in perseverance and of belief in one's self.
If Nava's baseball career had ended after that June 12, 2010 grand slam, it would have made for a great story. At that point, he was a guy who had already beaten the odds and exceeded the estimations of countless baseball scouts and coaches.
But that wasn't enough for Nava. He had bigger dreams, greater aspirations and higher expectations. Who knows where he can go from here?
While anything more would merely seem like icing on the cake, Nava has already proven himself to be more than just a serviceable backup or fourth outfielder. He is a legitimate major league outfielder, starting for a contending team in the AL East.
And that is a really fantastic story. You just can't script this stuff.