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Daniel Nava: a true American success story

Apr 8, 2013, 5:55 PM EDT

Daniel Nava Getty Images

Daniel Nava was the unlikeliest major leaguer in any starting lineup today. And it’s safe to say a lot of Red Sox fans were disappointed to see him starting over Jackie Bradley Jr. in left field in the Fenway Park season opener.

Nava, though, rewarded manager John Farrell’s show of faith with a homer over the Green Monster that scored all of Boston’s runs in a 3-1 victory over Baltimore. It was his second homer on the young season.

To say that Nava took a rare path to the majors would be underselling it. The kid weighed 70 pounds as a freshman in high school. He failed to make the Santa Clara University baseball team as a walk-on, settling for a gig as an equipment manager until he could no longer afford tuition and left for junior college. After a successful year of baseball at the College of San Mateo, he returned to Santa Clara, this time on a full scholarship, as a senior and hit .395.

Of course, Nava still went undrafted. He tried out for the independent Chico Outlaws of the Golden Baseball League in 2006 and failed to make the team. Trying again in 2007, he made the team, hit .371 with 12 homers in 256 at-bats and got himself signed by the Red Sox.

After a couple of years in the minors, Nava was called up by the Red Sox and became the second major leaguer ever to hit a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw. And then he went almost two years without another major league homer. After he hit a modest .242/.351/.360 in 161 at-bats as a rookie in 2010, the Red Sox left him in the minors for all of 2011. Summoned back last year, he hit .243/.352/.390 with six homers in 267 at-bats. This year, he made the team out of spring training for the first time and has two homers and six RBI in four games.

Now, the 30-year-old Nava is the very definition of a fringe major leaguer. For all of his hard work, he may yet find himself back in Triple-A in a couple of months. Even so, it’s incredible that he’s come this far. From 70-pound weakling to college equipment manager to indy league tryout cut to Boston Red Sox outfielder qualifies as an unprecedented path.

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For more on Nava’s background, see Brian MacPherson’s feature in the Providence Journal from 2010.

  1. tfbuckfutter - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    Everyone loves a success story, and it’d be great to see him blossom.

    The only thing I dislike about the guy is fellow Red Sox fans pointing to a 30 year old minor leaguer as a sign that the rebuilding process will go swimmingly.

    Although so far so good.

    • drewzducks - Apr 8, 2013 at 9:26 PM

      31 would qualify him as a young buck in Yankee speak.

      • tfbuckfutter - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:05 PM

        Oh to be a year older than Brent Gardner but to have potential.

    • drewzducks - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:15 PM

      Yeah because the Sox hold a AAAA guy like Nava in the same regard as the Yanks do Gardner, the “youngest” everyday regular in the grey beards lineup.

      • tfbuckfutter - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:57 PM

        That’s my point….Nava is a year older than Gardner but at least they can say “He may OPS in the mid .800s when given a shot”…..

        But with Gardner, you’re getting .750 if you’re lucky.

    • hammyofdoom - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:36 PM

      Well it seems like everyone undervalued Nava until he beat it into them that he was worth a flier. Seriously, the guy has an OBP of .380 against righties in the major leagues… that’s VERY valuable and I could see him getting 300+ AB’s with this team between left, DH and 1B

      • Jack Marshall - Apr 9, 2013 at 7:56 AM

        He’s also a fundamentally sound player—strong, accurate arm, hits the cut-off, good all around defense and decent speed. A perfect 5th outfielder, which is what he is on the Red Sox.

    • polonelmeagrejr - Apr 9, 2013 at 8:35 AM

      tbuck Brett, isn’t it?

      • tfbuckfutter - Apr 9, 2013 at 12:18 PM

        I don’t make it a point to commit minor-league players names to memory.

  2. poormanspressbox - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:03 PM

    Seeing his grand slam debut on national TV was one of those moments that reminds you why baseball is so awesome, especially when they showed his parents in the crowd who had made the long, last minute trek to be there. Great story.

  3. cur68 - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    Good luck to him. He’s worked very hard for it all.

    • historiophiliac - Apr 9, 2013 at 12:13 AM

      There you are!

      /drops one silent but violent and streaks off!

      • cur68 - Apr 9, 2013 at 12:56 AM

        You need more beano

      • historiophiliac - Apr 9, 2013 at 7:36 AM

        he he

  4. oldpaddy - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    Nava had a great hit, but the real star today were the pitching staffs.
    What a great game!!

  5. indaburg - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Cool story. I admire his perseverance and wish him the best of luck (except against the Rays).

  6. turdfurgerson68 - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:31 PM

    “it’s safe to say a lot of Red Sox fans were disappointed to see him starting over Jackie Bradley Jr. in left field in the Fenway Park season opener.”

    Uh, not really. JB jr is hitting like .125; they only fans who were disappointed he didn’t play are the fans who believe waay over-the-top (premature) hype saddled on him.

    Don’t get me wrong, he’s going to be a very good player, and is Ellsbery’s heir apparent in CF. It’s hard making the jump fron AA to the majors.

    He’ll go to Pawtucket to hone his mad skills whrn Ortiz

    • turdfurgerson68 - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:33 PM

      ..when Ortiz comes off the DL.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Apr 8, 2013 at 7:07 PM

      Bradley got the biggest ovation of anyone during the pregame intros. Maybe I oversold it a bit, but there were a lot of fans there that wanted to see him play.

      • sabatimus - Apr 8, 2013 at 7:08 PM

        I think that honor went to Farrell.

      • kjericho43 - Apr 8, 2013 at 7:21 PM

        Nava is a good part time player. Red Sox fans dig him. He is no slug. Farrell obviously pushed the right button today.

      • turdfurgerson68 - Apr 8, 2013 at 8:26 PM

        You need to oversell sometimes…keeps us coming back, ha ha.

        He did get a loud ovation…he’s gonna be fun to watch play for the next hald decade.

    • 18thstreet - Apr 8, 2013 at 7:09 PM

      Five walks, including coming back from 0-2 down against CC Sabathia, which was probably the most important at bat of the opening. OBP of .333. Great fielder.

      Batting average is a lie.

      • turdfurgerson68 - Apr 8, 2013 at 8:30 PM

        Very true, and he is playing decently in the outfield.

        However he’s had some difficult at bats as well.

        He’s gonna be good, no one is disputing that…he needs more work in Pawtucket first.

  7. randygnyc - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    Well, everyone was once 70 lbs and his physical maturation can most likely be attributed to steroids.

    • 18thstreet - Apr 8, 2013 at 7:10 PM

      Ipso facto, everyone takes steroids.

    • turdfurgerson68 - Apr 8, 2013 at 8:33 PM

      Hey, where you been at randygayc?

      Seems like you only come out to play when the Yankees win…looks like you’reg onna spent a lotta time at home alone this season, ha ha.

    • hammyofdoom - Apr 8, 2013 at 9:02 PM

      Wow, 0 for 53. Those numbers woulda gotten you sent to AAA bud.

      • tfbuckfutter - Apr 8, 2013 at 9:16 PM

        Unless he could man 1st base for the Yanks.

        Or Shortstop.

        Or Catcher.

    • buggieowens - Apr 9, 2013 at 7:23 AM

      haters gonna hate

    • Jack Marshall - Apr 9, 2013 at 7:58 AM

      Wow. What an astoundingly stupid and unfair comment.

    • polonelmeagrejr - Apr 9, 2013 at 8:36 AM

      He’s Baaa-aa-ack.

  8. hojo20 - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    Great post! I’ve heard Nava interviewed on the radio and he seems like a down to earth guy just thankful to get some big league at bats.

  9. storebrandcookies - Apr 8, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    I love a good success story, I remember his grand slam because I was watching that game on Fox..

  10. c4patsfan - Apr 8, 2013 at 7:05 PM

    @randygnyc

    or it could be attributed to puberty

    • drewzducks - Apr 8, 2013 at 9:30 PM

      Or a “cup of coffee” with the Yankees.

  11. kathbrandwood - Apr 8, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    Good for Nava, but he won’t keep the Sox out of basement this year.

    • 18thstreet - Apr 8, 2013 at 7:11 PM

      Yeah, that’s what the Yankees are for.

  12. ienjoysensi - Apr 8, 2013 at 7:21 PM

    That 3-2 curve on Adam Jones was a pretty nasty pitch . Purchased MLB.tv today n must add I’m pretty impressed . Listening/briefly sneaking a peak in at live games made work a little more enjoyable . Seems well worth the money.

  13. hitdog042 - Apr 8, 2013 at 9:26 PM

    Tbuttfer is a clown. Rebuilding the team has nothing to do with the reserve of/1b. Clown call.

  14. soxfan34110 - Apr 8, 2013 at 9:57 PM

    A bit cliched I know, but Nava seems like a guy you’d be thrilled if your daughter married him.

  15. mrwhite07 - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:03 PM

    Perseverance pays off!!!

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