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Wednesday, 12 June 2013 03:17

Daniel Nava's Road to Relevance

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The word “All star” and the name Daniel Nava didn’t appear to be synonymous with each other when the season began. In fact it didn’t seem certain that Nava would even have a job with the Red Sox after Boston signed outfielders Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino, and then traded for Mike Carp. Perhaps the word “adversity” and the name Daniel Nava would be more synonymous. After all, Nava has dealt with affliction his entire baseball life, it even pushed him out of the game. But when most would have quit, Nava’s steadfast perseverance and determination rose him from irrelevance to one of Boston Red Sox most valuable players. Daniel Nava’s crooked path to the majors seems nothing short of a hollywood movie script. An undersized high school senior, Nava did not received any interest from college baseball programs looking to bulk up their team. Instead, Nava attended Santa Clara University in Sillicon Valley, California and participated in a walk on try out in hopes to make the team. Despite his effort though, Nava’s attempt to join Santa Clara’s squad failed. However, albeit sounding like some sort of geeky consolation prize, Nava was named Santa Clara’s equipment manager. But after two years of washing uniforms and raking infield dirt at Santa Clara, tuition became to expensive for Nava and he was forced to leave. Daniel ended up attending junior college at the College of San Mateo in San Mateo, California. While in attendance, Nava again tried out for the baseball program and was good enough to make the team. Finally given the opportunity to play, Nava did not disappoint and even became a junior college All American. Then a senior, Nava’s former school, the University of Santa Clara, caught wind of his success at San Mateo and offered him a full scholarship. In his only season with Santa Clara, Nava played 53 games, batted .395/.476/.530, collected 79 hits, and was awarded first team All-WCC. Despite finally proving his worth on the diamond, Nava went undrafted upon finishing college. As a result, Nava signed with the Chico Outlaws who were part of the Golden baseball league. While with the Outlaws, Nava continued to be a key asset on the field. In his first and only season with Chico in 2007, Nava batted .371/.475/.625 and was named the top independent league prospect by Baseball America. Nava finally received some reparations for his skills when the Red Sox bought him from Chico for one dollar. To put it into prospective, Nava was about as valuable to Chico as a McDonalds cheese burger. Seriously, if I were ever on a professional baseball team of any kind I would like to think I am worth more than a dollar. But I digress, back to the story. Between 2008 and 2009, Nava played in three levels of the Red Sox farm system. Low A Lancaster was Nava’s first stop. The then 25 year old, played in 85 games and continued to put up big on base numbers hitting .341/.424/.523. In the following season Nava only played 29 games at high A Salem before he was called up to double A Portland. With the Sea Dogs, Nava continued to play at a high level. In 32 games Nava batted .364/.479/.568 with 43 hits, 10 doubles, 4 homers, and 23 RBI. After his lame duck season with Portland, Nava was summoned join the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2010 and then made the final leap to Boston after just 77 games at the triple A level. After a roller coaster ride to the majors, Daniel Nava’s MLB debut could not have gone any differently. With the bases loaded, Nava stepped to the plate and promptly unloaded a grand slam into the Red Sox bull pen on the first pitch he saw as a major leaguer. Nava joined the very exclusive club of players to hit a grand slam on the first MLB at bat which includes Bill Duggleby, Jeremy Hermida, and Kevin Kouzmanoff. Furthermore, only Nava and Kouzmanoff hit their grand slam on the first pitch.   From 2010 until 2012, Nava bounced between triple A Pawtucket and Boston. Even being designated for assignment and clearing waivers along the way. Thus, the 2013 season did not seem like it was going to be the year that Nava would finally get his chance to prove himself. The Red Sox made Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino rich men in the offseason, giving both lucrative multi year deals. Logic made it seem like neither Victorino or Gomes would be riding the bench for the money they received. Yet again, Nava saw the odds stacked against him. But just like the times before, Nava has prevailed. Now 30 years old, Nava began the season as a platoon player in left field with Jonny Gomes but has since forced his way into the every day line up. So far this season, Nava has collected 42 RBI’s, which is good for third on the Red Sox behind David Ortiz(48) and Mike Napoli(42). Nava also has the second highest batting average(.300) and on base percentage(.396) among qualified Red Sox hitters. Being among the best on a good team usually translates to being one of the best in the league, Nava is a byproduct of that thinking. When stacked up against MLB outfielders Nava’s numbers speak volumes about his play. While Nava’s average falls just short of the top 10 MLB outfielders, his on base percentage ranks third behind Shin-Soo Choo and Dexter Fowler. Additionally, Nava’s 42 RBI’s tie him with Carlos Beltran for 6th among MLB outfielders. In summation the Daniel Nava story really is starting to repeat itself--in a good way. There’s an obstacle & Nava overcomes it. There’s a opportunity and Nava doesn’t let it slip away. Two difficult, yet basic lessons that Nava has from and founded a career on. It is rather remarkable to think that 5 short years ago, perhaps the most wisely spent dollar in the history of the Red Sox was spent to bring aboard a player who’s accolades can speak for themselves. A pure average hitter and an on base machine at every level, Nava's minor league number suggest that this season is lucky or a fluke. Nava has alway been this good. With that in mind, Nava's 2013 season shouldn't come as a surprise, but it's certainly a season the Red Sox will take.

Dan O'Mara

Hello reader, if you're reading this then that means you've stumbled across one of my Red Sox articles. Lucky you. My name is Dan O'Mara, I'm from New Jersey but I have deep New England roots and frequently vist family in New Hampshire, and own a house in Vermont. I'm a life long Red Sox fan but love and respect baseball in general. Follow me on twitter @Dan_OMara.